Mamelodi Sundowns risk losing the top spot to their closest rivals Swallows FC following Tuesday’s 0-0 Premier Soccer League draw against Bloemfontein Celtic at Lucas Moripe Stadium.
Dropping four points in two consecutive games after another goalless draw against SuperSport United last Saturday, Downs could find themselves second on the standings if Swallows win over Chippa United on Wednesday.
If SuperSport United beat AmaZulu by a huge margin, Sundowns could drop to the third spot despite extending their unbeaten league run to 14 matches on Tuesday.
They were facing a team which eliminated them from the MTN8 three months ago though struggling in the PSL, but the Brazilians were frustrated by Celtic’s spirited defending.
Sundowns welcomed back the attacking trio of Themba Zwane, Peter Shalulile and Kermit Erasmus, who last started together in the 1-1 draw against Maritzburg United on December 5, before going for five league matches without being in the same starting XI.
But the trio struggled to click the way they shook PSL defences in the first few games of the season.
Few chances characterised the opening stages of the contest but Tebogo Langerman’s goal-bound delivery from the left side was tipped wide by Celtic goalkeeper Jackson Mabokgwane eight minutes into the match.
Lesotho forward Sera Motebang kept Downs defenders up on their feet but it was Lantshene Phalane who had their first real chance at goal when his freekick from just outside the box curled just wide of the top corner in the 16th minute.
Sensing the possibility of the visitors taking the lead, Downs started attacking more with Mothobi Mvala breaking loose but headed Zwane’s cross from the right just wide.
Zwane then side-netted in the 29th minute following some nice exchanges with Shalulile.
Five minutes later, Zwane eliminated two markers but an alert Mabokgwane came off his goal to thwart danger and seconds later the Celtic goalie was back to deny Erasmus in a one-on-one situation after Lebohang Maboe had released the forward.
The resultant goal-kick from Mabokgwane swung the action to the other end and Siphelele Luthuli rounded Sundowns goalie Denis Onyango to face an empty but his shot was weak and allowed Langerman to clear danger the 10 minutes before the half-time break.
Downs continued attacking but the Celtic defence was solid and did not make it easy for them as the two sides went for the breather at 0-0.
An injury to Mabokgwane was the first major highlight of the second half and the former Orlando Pirates goalkeeper was eventually substituted for Sipho Chaine seven minutes into the second stanza.
Chaine was immediately tested with Shalulile’s goal being ruled offside, before Erasmus beat the goalkeeper who had to thank the woodwork for denying Sundowns the opener.
In a controversial moment of the game, Celtic were denied what looked like a clear goal on the hour mark when Motebang slid in a low cross from the right but was adjudged to be offside.
Motebang continued to trouble the Downs defence and this time forced Onyango to desperate tip over the bar the Lesotho international’s bicycle kick after he had taken advantage of Brian Mandela’s failure to clear the danger.
The introduction of Gaston Sirino for Mvala was expected to fire up Downs but they continued to be frustrated by Celtic who had Chaine denying Erasmus 17 minutes from time.
Two tame efforts by Lesedi Kapinga, who had replaced Zwane, brought more frustration for Sundowns whose desperate attacking invited the best out of the Celtic defence.
Shalulile failure to connect from close range two minutes before full-time was a last kick of a dying horse as Downs could not even take advantage of seven minutes of added time.