Goals from Themba Zwane, Siphele Mkhulise and Keletso Makgwala ensured Mamelodi Sundowns kept their Premiership defence intact following a 3-1 come-from-behind win over rookies Stellenbosch FC at home, Loftus Versfeld Stadium, on Wednesday night.
Tonight’s result ensured that the Brazilians cut the gap between them and pacesetters Kaizer Chiefs to 10 points, despite the relatively disappointing this season in pursuit for their record 10th Premiership title.
It seems it’s always too early to discard Sundowns out of the title race. But, after all, this is a team that won the last two successive Premiership titles, amid their gruelling continental football commitments, which, at the time, started during their domestic league’s pre-season.
However, having the Caf Champions League preliminary rounds started simultaneously with the domestic league, the Brazilians would feel they’ve let themselves down in allowing Chiefs to lead the pack with 10 points, while Amakhosi have only played a game more.
But for now, it just appears that Sundowns are yet to channel their inner championship pedigree, having also been frustrated here by the rookies, Stellies, who ensured they went into the interval with the lead from a Ryan Moon.
But three goals in the second half by Zwane, Mkhulise and Makgalwa ensured that Sundowns sent a loud message about their Premiership defence.
The visitors took their game up a notch from outset after noticing that coach Pitso Mosimane had relatively started with his second-string team.
Mosimane was forced to take tonight precautionary tactical change in awake of the Telkom Knockout final clash against Maritzburg United on Saturday afternoon at the Moses Mabhida Stadium.
But despite missing some key fingers, there’s no doubt that many would have expected the Brazilians, who’ve got enough depth, to show their home dominance especially knowing how invaluable three points would be.
Instead, it was the Stellies who showed more determination as early as the fourth minute after Moon skied his efforts in the early stands following a through ball from Waseem Isaacs.
From thereon, everything just seemed to be coming together for the Capetonians, who were made to click by the mesmeric Nkayiso Zungu in the engine room.
Zungu, who produced a man-of-match winning performance the last time they played in the nation’s capital against SuperSport United, was winning every second ball for his team, while his passing rate was simple spot on.
However, it would take a well-executed delivery from Marc Van Heerden to connect with the head of Moon, who needed no second invited as he pounced past Kennedy Mweene, who palmed the ball into his own net.
But such is the story of champions against rookies that when give a chance to come back to the game, they normally capitalize.
And Sundowns got a breath of fresh when Keletso Makgalwa took the field in the place of Ali Meza at the start of the second half.
Makgalwa kept the Stellies’ defence on their toes with his pace, almost bringing Themba Zwane, who was making his long return from an injury, back to life after a dull first half.
From thereon, Zwane showed his experience and brought his team back into the game after diving inside the box and fully convincing Khulasande Qonqo to award his team an penalty.
The Sundowns’ talisman stepped up and restored parity for his team, before teeing up Siphelele Mkhulise to deliver the sucker punch to the visitors.
Makgalwa would put the icing on the cake with a well taken finish in stoppage, giving Sundowns a huge morale going into the final on Saturday.
Mamelodi Sundowns (0) (3)
Zwane 57’ (P), Mkhulise 85’ and Makgalwa 90+2
Stellenbosch F (1) (1)