Sun­downs take ad­van­tage of Fan­teni’s card

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - ROD­NEY REINERS

AJAX CAPE TOWN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0 MAMELODI SUN­DOWNS . . . . . . . . . . . . .(0) 1 (Mushekwi 63rd) SUN­DOWNS went seven points clear at the top of the PSL af­ter beat­ing Ajax at Athlone last night – and other ti­tle-chal­lengers are go­ing to have to go some way to catch them this sea­son.

The thing about win­ning ti­tles is that a team has to be able to win ugly. And that is cer­tainly what Sun­downs were forced to do last night. For, in essence, for large pe­ri­ods of the 90 min­utes, they were chas­ing the ball.

Ajax played de­light­ful pos­ses­sion foot­ball, de­spite hav­ing striker Them­binkosi ‘ Ter­ror’ Fan­teni sent off in the 28th minute. You would never have thought Ajax were a man short, such was their dom­i­na­tion of pos­ses­sion and the slick na­ture of their pass­ing game.

The only prob­lem be­ing, as usual, that they couldn’t turn pos­ses­sion into goals.

For Sun­downs, the man of the moment was goal­keeper Wayne Sandi­lands, who de­liv­ered two out­stand­ing stops to deny clear-cut and al­most sure goals for Ajax.

Ajax made the early run­ning and cre­ated chances. Fan­teni found him­self in space in the ninth minute, but shot straight at Sandi­lands.

Three min­utes later, Ajax cap­tain Brett Evans curled in a teas­ing free-kick where right­back Thu­lani Hlatswayo found him­self un­marked at the far post. The de­fender’s header, though, also failed to pro­vide a real test for Sandi­lands.

It was in the 20th minute, how­ever, that Sandi­lands earned his salary. This time, Ajax young­ster Thu­lani Serero whipped in the cross and cen­tre-back Clay­ton Daniels pow­ered a header goal­wards. It looked for all the world as if the Capetonians would take the lead, but Sandi­lands pulled off a mag­nif­i­cent one-handed save.

At this stage, Sun­downs had to be con­tent with long range ef­forts from Franklin Cale, a for­mer Ajax player.

But the game changed dra­mat­i­cally in the 28th minute when Fan­teni was or­dered off the field. Ref­eree Ja­cob Frolick ad­judged that the Ajax striker had dived in, studs up, in a tackle on Matthew Booth.

Fan­teni was shown a straight red card – and, on re­flec­tion, there can be no doubt­ing the de­ci­sion. It was a rash, gra­tu­itous chal­lenge.

The man ad­van­tage paid im­me­di­ate div­i­dends for Sun­downs. While they may have played sec­ond fid­dle to Ajax in the open­ing pe­riod, the send­ing off gave the Pre­to­ria team the boost they needed. And, just two min­utes later, Katlego Mphela had an op­por­tu­nity to get Sun­downs on the board, but struck his shot nar­rowly wide of goal.

But Ajax, even with 10 men, were cer­tainly in no mood to give in. They bat­tled away and had the bet­ter chances in the open­ing 15 min­utes of the sec­ond half, with Doutie, Serero and Hlatswayo all go­ing close.

Foot­ball, though, is a cruel game as Ajax were to dis­cover.

De­spite all their hard work, they lost fo­cus at the back and con­ceded a goal when sub­sti­tute Nyasha Mushekwi, with his first touch of the ball, headed in Le­bo­hang Mokoena’s corner.

Even that set­back failed to de­ter Ajax and they con­tin­ued to play foot­ball of a high qual­ity. Khama Bil­iat had an op­por­tu­nity to equalise in the 72nd minute, but again it was Sandi­lands who res­cued the sit­u­a­tion with an­other fine save.

All in all, it was work­man­like, pro­fes­sional per­for­mance from Sun­downs. They were away from home and they knew that Ajax had to chase the game – and the points. And, in the end, ir­re­spec­tive of the na­ture of the vic­tory, the log lead­ers got the job done.

Ajax will look back at what could have been. They were good value as far as per­for­mance was concerned, de­spite play­ing with 10 men for 62 min­utes, but they still failed to get the vi­tal points.

It means that Ajax have a moun­tain to climb to reel Sun­downs in next year. And the Cape side may well have to hope the lead­ers hit a bad patch, else their PSL ti­tle-am­bi­tions will have to be put on hold for an­other sea­son – yet again!

Mar­itzburg United suf­fered their third suc­ces­sive de­feat in the Premier­ship when they went down 2-0 to Free State Stars at Harry Gwala Sta­dium last night af­ter spurn­ing a glut of scor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Over­all Mar­itzburg have now gone six matches with­out a win in the league, which must be a big worry, while Free State have recorded four wins in their last six games af­ter a quiet start to the sea­son.

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