Pietermaritzburg - Mogogi Gabonamong’s goal in first-half stoppage time proved decisive as SuperSport United became the first team to book their place in the Nedbank Cup semi-finals after a 2-1 win over 10-man Maritzburg United in Pietermaritzburg on Saturday.
The hosts took an early lead courtesy of a Cuthbert Malajila header, before the visitors drew level midway through the opening half when George Maluleka drilled in at the near post.
But the game turned on its head moments before the half-time whistle when defender Rheece Evans was sent off after collecting a second yellow card when he tugged on the shirt of Kermit Erasmus.
VIDEO: Nedbank Cup semi-final - SuperSport United v Maritzburg United
Gabonamong headed in the resulting free-kick and the defending champions held on for victory at the Harry Gwala Stadium.
United made a flying start to the game by going ahead in the eighth minute when Sheppard beat Grant Kekana on the left and dipped a superb cross onto the head of Malajila to head in from close range.
SuperSport tried to respond straight away with Bradley Grobler springing the off-side trap on the left and combining nicely with Gabonamong to set up Erasmus, who shot straight at Shuaib Walters from the edge of the box.
Sheppard had another good chance in the 18th minute, but sent a 20-yard free-kick well over, while moments later confusion between goalkeeper Ronwen Williams and Edwin Gyimah almost allowed in Malajila, with Mor Diouf scrambling away at the last moment.
SuperSport then drew level in the 22nd minute when Maluleka collected on the left side of the box following another dangerous Matsatsantsa break, beat his man Mohammed Awal and finished between the legs of Walters.
Just before the half-hour mark, another slick build-up move by the visitors led to the ball falling to Erasmus on the edge of the box, but the shot was crashed wide.
Maritzburg then had two fine chances to go in front. First defender Evans did well to beat his man on the right and cut back to Delron Buckley, whose rasping effort was turned around the post for a corner by Williams.
Moments later Sheppard sent over another delightful ball from the left, only for Namibia international Heinrich Isaacks to drill wide unmarked at the back post.
And Ernst Middendorp’s men were made to pay for those misses when they were first reduced to 10 men, followed by Gabonamong heading them in front from Erasmus's raking free-kick.
The German coach tried to regroup at the break and threw on Michael Morton and Peter Petersen, a move which looked a good one as they continued to stay in the contest.
But SuperSport replacement Thabiso Nkoana should have done better with two chances he had, the first he directed wide from a Maluleka pass on the left, while the next was excellently saved by the onrushing Walters.
The Maritzburg keeper was again involved in the 68th minute when Nkoana danced his way down the right, before shooting tamely straight at Walters.
With time running out, Nkoana was again responsible for a gilt-edge miss when he powered a header wide from six yards out as Gavin Hunt’s team held on.