This was probably the loveliest finish to the most horrible season for Maritzburg United as they escaped relegation here yesterday.
Their win meant they finished in 14th place, ahead of University of Pretoria, who will be involved in the national play-offs, while Jomo Cosmos were relegated. Mohau Mokate and Evans Rusike’s second-half goals ensured Maritzburg United stayed up and survived the drop to the National First Division (NFD).
After toying with relegation for the better part of the season, Maritzburg made it on the last day – proving that it is not how you start, but how you finish that counts.
They saved their best for last as they condemned Cosmos to the NFD. Linda Mntambo’s first-half goal was not enough to save them. This is the fifth time Cosmos have been relegated.
After escaping with a slap on the wrist for fielding an improperly registered player in Thabo Modiba, Cosmos could not afford any more slip-ups, but they let themselves down. They must pay a R200 000 fine and knew staying in the elite league and getting their monthly R1.5 million grant was going to ease their financial burden.
Another season in the lower league awaits them, but before that, potentially a huge rebuilding job is needed. This is not a team that only needs a few tweaks here and there – it needs a total overhaul. The NFD is a tough, competitive league and promotion demands high standards of consistency.
Coming to this game, both sides knew that one had to bite the dust after 90 minutes. Cosmos needed only a draw to safeguard their status, while Maritzburg needed an outright victory to condemn Ezenkosi to relegation.
Things were tense long before kickoff and the two coaches refused to shake hands. It wasn’t any better on the field as the teams went for each other. The message was clear: go out and do everything you can to win.
The visitors started the brighter side, launching a few attacks, but found Cosmos’ defence very tight.
Playing under this kind of pressure was never going to be an easy thing to handle, and the nerves showed at times as players committed too many unforced errors.
After going to the break behind on the score sheet, Maritzburg knew a lot depended in the final 45 minutes, and they went all-out in this half as they knew it could be their final half in the elite league. The introduction of Abia Nale at the beginning of the second half made them more offensive in this stanza. They played as if their lives depended on it, and were rewarded at the end.
The Maritzburg side was denied by goalkeeper Sherwyn Naicker in the 56th minute and a few minutes later, their penalty appeal fell on referee Daniel Bennett’s deaf ears. But that did not matter much as goals by Mokate and Rusike’s brace earned them their most crucial three points of the season.
The final whistle brought wild celebrations from the travelling supporters and the management team.
But they know they came so very close to going down.
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