The scene was set for either Bidvest Wits or Mamelodi Sundowns to grab the Premier Soccer League title race by the horns on Saturday evening.
While it was still far too early to describe the game as a title-deciding fixture, both sides went into the encounter at Bidvest Stadium knowing all too well that victory would put them in the pound seats.
Sundowns were still reeling from their disappointing draw against Polokwane City thanks in part to a mistake by Denis Onyango, but while the Ugandan was retained, one notable change upfront was Mahlambi as Mosimane looked to unleash him against his former side.
That change certainly proved effective as the 21-year-old was on the scoresheet as early as the third minute. A forward move saw Darren Keet parry a shot into the patch of Mahlambi who made no mistake from close range.
The early goal sent shockwaves through the Wits starting XI as they were forced to claw their way back into the game which was not easy considering that they were fresh off a penalty shootout win over Black Leopards in the Nedbank Cup.
But as expected, head coach Gavin Hunt roped in his most trusted players with the club’s top scorer Gift Motupa leading the line.
Motupa almost equalised as early as the 12th minute when his glancing header from a set-piece cannoned off the woodwork to the relief of a rather static Sundowns backline.
However, the Students remained undeterred and continued to pry in search of a goal with Motupa and playmaker Deon Hotto a constant threat.
This combination almost proved deadly with less than 20 minutes played, but Onyango showed great alertness and reaction to avert the danger with Motupa looking to pull the trigger.
At the other end, Themba Zwane had an opportunity to double Sundowns’ advantage but his choice to pass the ball in the opposition box saw the move come to an abrupt halt.
Wits pushed and although Sundowns boasted one of the league’s stingiest defences having conceded just 12 goals prior to kick-off, they were showing cracks, and this was eventually exploited by Wits.
A mistake by Ricardo Nascimento at the back allowed Motupa to steal the ball off him and Motupa with typical predatory instinct made no mistake, sliding the ball past Onyango and equalising with half an hour played.
It was an enthralling half of football in Johannesburg, and the capacity crowd in attendance were certainly enjoying the occasion.
The excitement was made even more palpable when Sundowns were reduced to 10-men before the break.
Wayne Arendse, who was deemed fit for the clash despite suffering a suspected concussion earlier in the week was caught out by a long ball and committed a professional foul in order to stop Fagrie Lakay from running through on goal.
This saw the referee go his pocket and he bandied a red card to the bemusement of many of the Sundowns players as they eventually went into the break deadlocked.
The second half immediately saw Wits look to go offensive as former Sundowns start Elias Pelembe was introduced. But it was another playmaker in Hotto, who tested Onyango with a fierce effort early on.
With Sundowns suffering from a numerical disadvantage, this saw them opt to sit back and soak in the danger.
Wits used the opportunity to slow down the game and intricately work their way into the box, but the Tshwane giant’s defence held firm.
The last time these two sides met in the league in 2018, the clash ended 1-1 and the signs were ominous that another draw could be on the cards.
Hunt threw on Gabadinho Mhango as he looked to emphasise his team's numerical advantage and Mosimane too responded by throwing on Rivaldo Coetzee for Mahlambi.
The defensive emphasis saw Sundowns continue to be under the cosh and Sifiso Hlanti came close to a goal as his thunderous effort just went wide of Onyango’s goal.
That was Onyango’s last bit of action as Sundowns’ woes were worsened when the burly keeper was forced off with injury, leaving Reyaad Pieterse to guard the posts for the final 15 minutes of the game.
Meanwhile, 13% of Wits’ goals this season came in the final period of the game, and this saw Simon Murray thrown on as Wits went on the all-out attack, but they could not break a stubborn Sundowns defence, who recorded their ninth draw of the season.