Brave Stellies show no fear in holding Downs
IQRAAM Rayners, a veritable goal machine, scored from the penalty spot to claim a well-deserved draw for Stellenbosch against Sundowns at Danie Craven Stadium yesterday.
Earlier, Sundowns super-sub Cassius Mailula had threatened to take the game away from the hosts by opening the scoring with a welltaken second-half goal.
Rayners’ match-saving goal was his sixth since rejoining the club three weeks ago, and at this rate, he will join the race for the Golden Boot by the time the season ends.
Finally, Sundowns’ winning run was snapped and Stellenbosch deserve every accolade that comes their way.
A torrential downpour greeted the teams as they made their way onto the pitch and after it persisted well into the first half, hazardous conditions prevailed. As a result, several players slipped as they battled the conditions.
Sundowns fielded a vastly untried combination which saw only four players retained from the side that successfully secured a quarter-final spot in the Nedbank Cup against Marumo Gallants on Thursday.
At the start, Sundowns showed composure as they tried to impose themselves on the match, but soon the youthful Stellenbosch side started chasing them down.
Sundowns were rudely surprised by the home side’s energy, which proved unsettling and often they lost possession.
By the half-time break, the foul count showed Sundowns had committed seven, while Stellies had only one and that was a reflection of the impact of Stellenbosch’s tactics as Sundowns battled to cope with Stellenbosch’s enterprising and pacy play. In some cases, a foul proved a handy tool to stop Stellenbosch in their tracks.
Stellenbosch’s Argentinian import Júnior Mendieta was proving a handful as Sundowns’ defenders battled to contain him as he shook off his markers in the final third and had two gilt-edged chances in the opening half.
All-in-all, the first-half honours could have gone either way as both teams created scoring opportunities. Sundowns, the ‘Big Guns’ of South African football couldn’t dampen the spirits of Stellenbosch who showed scant regard for the champions, who were chasing an unprecedented 16th successive win in the Dstv Premiership.
The opening 15 minutes of the second half was played almost entirely in the Sundowns’ half as the home side continued to impress. After play passed the hour match Stellenbosch were 9-6 ahead on the shots-on-goal count and 7-4 on the corner count.
This was a fair reflection of the play, and Sundowns turned to their bench and called on three replacements to join the fray, including Mailula, who replaced Thapelo Morena. He made a telling impact by scoring after only 11 minutes on the field.
But it was not the only goal of the match because four minutes from time, Rayners scored a penalty to deny the reigning champions.
Meanwhile, Marumo Gallants and TS Galaxy played to a goalless draw in their match at the Toyota Stadium yesterday.