By CHRIS TOTOBELA
This weekend, it was down to the semis of this year’s edition of the New Year’s Cup at JD Dlephu stadium.
On Friday, New Brighton Academy narrowly defeated Manchester United by a late single goal. This was a very tight game which was decided by a clinical header from a set piece.
On Saturday Makhanda football lovers packed Dlephu to the rafters to support the only home side left in the tournament as MARU locked horns with Peddie Legends.
Both teams started cautiously looking for spaces to exploit. As expected, the midfield battle was tight, as both teams have very good and intelligent midfielders.
Peddie Legends started piling more pressure on the home side and forced them to make mistakes. The offside trap that MARU tried to play was like a bomb waiting to explode: the Legends attackers were too quick for them and nearly punished them when one of their slower defenders failed to push up.
Legends’ striker beat the offside trap and also beat the defender: he forced the keeper to come out and foul him just outside the box. MARU’s keeper earned a caution in the process.
MARU’s captain and top marksman Vuyani Skeyi had a glorious chance to put the home side ahead when he outsprinted the defence and was left one on one with the keeper – but he ballooned the ball.
Legends also missed a devastating header after a very good cross from their right wing.
Both teams struggled to deal with the cloud of dust that kept on gusting across the field for the better part of the first half. There was no score at halftime.
MARU started taking the game to the opponents in the second half. They were immediately rewarded when their left back, Ayabulela Baloti, tapped home from close range after a set piece from the left, to give the home side the lead.
This spurred the Peddie-based side into action. They started controlling the game and were also rewarded after a long goalkeeper clearance found Luthando Rafani unmarked. He ran through MARU’s defence to blast the ball home and level the score – to the delight of the travelling Peddie fans.
MARU had numerous chances to kill the game – but luck deserted them. The game ended at one goal apiece and went straight to the penalty shootout.
Peddie Legends changed their keeper midway through the shootout and the new keeper made one important save. Peddie Legends won the game 5-4 on penalties, breaking the hearts of Makhanda supporters in the process.
MARU head coach Wandile Duruwe said after the game, “I am very proud of my boys, as they real gave their all. They stuck to our game plan and the goal that we conceded was just a mistake.
“We thank all the people who came to watch us and we would like them to come back for the 3rd and 4th place playoff game.”
Peddie Legends coach Lazola Cekiso could not contain his excitement.
“I am happy with this win. We knew about the weaknesses in their defence and that is why we did not panic when they took the lead. We knew we had better ball players in the midfield compared to them.
“We would like to dedicate this win to the people of Peddie, who came in numbers to support us.”
This was a very tight game which demanded a lot from both sets of players. It had all the ingredients of a good football match and that is why the football crowd enjoyed it so much.
Don’t miss the third- and fourth-place playoffs on New Year’s Eve, 31 December, at 1pm and the final at 3pm at JD Dlephu Stadium.