Baroka avoid the chop in tense draw

CityPress - - Sport - MAXWELL RAMARU at Tho­hoyan­dou Sta­dium sports@city­press.co.za

There were tears and cheers yes­ter­day as Baroka re­tained their place in the Absa Pre­mier­ship and Black Leop­ards were con­demned to the Na­tional First Division (NFD) for yet an­other season.

Bak­gaga drew 1-1 with Leop­ards in their fi­nal play-off match, which saw them end on top of the round-robin mini-league com­pe­ti­tion with eight points from four matches. Leop­ards set­tled for sec­ond spot with five points, while Stel­len­bosch ended bot­tom of the log with two points.

Li­doda Du­vha came into the match with high ex­pec­ta­tions, hav­ing beaten Stel­len­bosch 3-1 in a play-off match in Cape Town on Wed­nes­day to keep their hopes of pro­mo­tion alive.

How­ever, hav­ing con­ceded a goal to Stel­lies meant that Li­doda Du­vha needed to win the game by a two-goal mar­gin with­out con­ced­ing against Baroka, who needed only a draw to sur­vive the rel­e­ga­tion axe that has al­ready chopped off Highlands Park.

Bak­gaga were favourites con­sid­er­ing that even a 1-0 loss would have been enough for them to re­tain their Premier Soc­cer League sta­tus. Kgoloko Thobe­jane’s side had an ad­van­tage af­ter hav­ing beaten Leop­ards 2-1 in the dra­matic re­verse fix­ture played in Polok­wane last week.

Leop­ards, who failed to gain pro­mo­tion in the 2014/15 season, were hop­ing to end their four-year spell in the NFD.

Li­doda Du­vha were the only team stand­ing be­tween Baroka and their stay in the elite league af­ter Stel­len­bosch’s pro­mo­tion chances went up in smoke when they lost 2-0 to Baroka in their third play-off match.

There was an elec­tri­fy­ing at­mos­phere and the venue was filled to ca­pac­ity, with vo­cal Leop­ards ral­ly­ing be­hind their team.

The game was tense from the start as both teams eas­ily lost pos­ses­sion of the ball.

It was ev­i­dent that there was a lot more at stake than just three points. For Baroka play­ers, rel­e­ga­tion would have meant los­ing their jobs or tak­ing salary cuts. On the other hand, pro­mo­tion for Leop­ards could have brought joy to their fans, who have been starved of top-flight foot­ball, and cre­ated job op­por­tu­ni­ties for ven­dors dur­ing their home games.

Baroka mid­fielder Mduduzi Mdantsane si­lenced Leop­ards fans in the 34th minute when he helped the team take the lead with a low shot from a re­bound. This was af­ter Li­doda Du­vha keeper Rot­shidzwa Muleka spilt Richard Mat­loga’s thun­der­ous shot from the edge of penalty box.

Baroka suf­fered a huge blow two min­utes into the sec­ond half when striker Vic­tor Let­soalo was given a red card for un­sport­ing be­hav­iour. The set­back gave Leop­ards play­ers an ad­van­tage to at­tack in num­bers and they fi­nally got re­warded in the 65th minute, when cap­tain Siphelele Nt­shangase slot­ted in the equaliser from the penalty spot. How­ever, the home side still needed two more goals to achieve their tar­get.

It was not meant to be – the Baroka de­fence stood firm to en­sure they stayed in the land of milk and honey.

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