Late flourish sends Birds top
Lerato Chabangu (Backpagepix)
Johannesburg - A late goal flourish took Moroka Swallows to the top of the Premier Soccer League (PSL) log with a 2-0 win over Platinum Stars at a rain-drenched Dobsonville Stadium on Friday night.
An absorbing game between two of the more accomplished teams in the PSL appeared to be heading for a draw until evergreen former Bafana Bafana maestro Siyabonga Nomvethe broke clear of the Stars' defence in the 78th minute and opened the score after receiving a precise pass from Edward Mnqele.
Then, on the stroke of scheduled full-time, Lerato Chabangu rounded off an impressive man-of-the-match performance by weaving his way into the penalty area and making the final score 2-0 with a well-deserved goal.
While The Birds rise to the top of the log might be short-lived, with Mamelodi Sundowns only one point behind and with two games in hand, Swallows' coach Zeca Marques saw the result establishing his side as "genuine title contenders."
The victory was marred only by yet another meagre PSL crowd at a game in which glamour clubs Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, in the main, were not involved.
This did not prevent the small, but hardy band of Birds' followers leaving the largely-empty stadium still enthusiastically singing and chanting in the rain.
Stars, the new power in the PSL, who were only barely shaded by Chiefs for the Premier League title last season and earlier this season annexed the MTN8 title, may have themselves partly to blame for their downfall.
Coach Alan Freeze adopted a controversial rotation policy and left several of his most notable stars and in-form players like Botswana international Mogakoladi Ngele and the forceful Siphelele Mthembu on the bench at the outset and paid the penalty.
An even, probing opening half resulted in both sides coming desperately close to scoring, with Nigerian international Greg Etafia bringing off two courageous, point-blank saves to prevent Stars from taking the lead.
Swallows, in turn, had their chances as well and the livewire Chabangu peppered the Stars' goal with a continual stream of shots.
It was Nomvethe, however, a regular match-winner for The Birds in the last couple of seasons, who had the best-scoring opportunity of the first half when he headed Chabangu's cross against the crossbar from barely eight metres out in the 20th minute.
Games between Swallows and Stars have tended to end with the home side winning in recent years, and The Birds gradually gained an initiative the longer the game progressed.
As the rain intensified, so did the pressure put on the Stars' defence by the never-say-die Birds, with Nomvethe and Chabangu appropriately the players to provide the goals that mattered.