Baroka avoid the chop in tense draw
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.