Johannesburg - On the final day of Absa Premiership drama, Highlands Park made a u-turn into the National First Division, and Baroka FC will settle for the play-offs.
Baroka registered a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Ajax Cape Town to finish 15th on the log.
Bidvest Wits were crowned the new champions despite going down 1-0 to Kaizer Chiefs at FNB Stadium. But that did not matter as the game was a mere formality for them.
For Chiefs, however, it meant a lot as they leapfrogged over SuperSport United to the fourth spot after Stuart Baxter’s side lost 1-0 to Platinum Stars.
Highlands Park started the day in a safe position placed 15th, and needed to beat Mamelodi Sundowns to stand a chance of surviving the chop, but could only manage a 2-all draw.
Baroka were the main beneficiaries of the Sundowns victory as they have lived to see another day and could retain their Premiership status if they win the play-offs.
CAF Champions League
Sundowns’ victory confirmed them as the second representative in the CAF Champions League next year, after ending the season as runners up to the Students.
Cape Town City will represent the country in the CAF Confederation Cup after finishing third on the table. City lost 4-2 to Polokwane City in Polokwane to end their dream of a Champions League spot.
Ajax Cape Town were the biggest casualties – their loss means they missed a top eight spot. Golden Arrows sneaked through after defeating Orlando Pirates 2-1 to condemn the Buccaneers to their worst finish in history – 11th – and failing to qualify for the MTN8 tournament.
Platinum Stars came close, beating SuperSport 1-0, but it was not enough to book them a top-eight place.
Maritzburg United ended the season seventh on the log after their 1-all draw with Bloemfontein Celtic.
Baroka FC gave themselves a lifeline in the form of the PSL/relegation play-off against National First Division (NFD) opposition Black Leopards and Stellenbosch FC, in a mini round robin league starting next week.
Baroka stepped up when it counted by playing the game of their lives as they edged Ajax in Cape Town.
After playing to a goalless draw, Chippa United and Free State Stars retained their Premiership status.
City’s captain Lebogang Manyama walked away with the top scorer award after netting 13 goals, with Pirate’s striker Tendai Ndoro finishing second on 12 goals.
Own worst enemies
The chopping and changing of coaches is a major reason Highlands were relegated. The coaching merry-go-round cost them an arm and a leg. Only a year after gaining promotion to the top flight division, the Lions of the North are heading straight back to the NFD.
Highlands’ fall from the gravy train means a loss of millions of rands in monthly PSL grants. They are going back to the jungle, leaving behind the luxuries of PSL life.
The Lions of the North sacked their coach Gordon Igesund with four games remaining as their season plunged into crisis. Assistant coach Thierry Mabobo took over the sinking ship, but it was too little too late.
The man who promoted them to the top flight division, Allan Freese, was shown the door after five matches.
The Lions of the North leaked too many goals and were often targeted for easy points. They conceded the highest number of goals (43) in the league. They lost 13 matches and won just five in 30 games to collect the lowest points tally of 26.
Highlands joined Jomo Cosmos on the list of teams that have been relegated after spending just one season in the PSL. Fans wondered where their team had been as they put up a good fight in their last game of the season, giving everything they had against the Brazilians.
In-form midfielder Themba Zwane pushed a dagger into Highlands’ heart with a beautiful finish eight minutes before half-time. Their problems went from bad to worse when experienced campaigner Tapuwa Kapini brought down Yannick Zakri to concede a penalty. The Zimbabwean goalkeeper was shown a yellow card for his troubles.
Veteran defender Thabo Nthethe stepped up to convert the spot kick three minutes before the interval.
Seun Ledwaba cut the deficit in half with 44 minutes on the clock to give his team a lifeline. Mothobi Mvala equalised five minutes into stoppage time, but it was too late as time ran out.
The Brazilians held out for a draw as tears flowed like water at the sound of the final whistle.
The players were inconsolable – they knew that they wouldn’t be playing Premiership football here next season.
Hundreds of people in Tembisa – one of the biggest townships in the country – came to support their team, despite the disappointing season.
They created an electric atmosphere, cheering their team on, but their hearts were broken. Highlands raised the profile of football in Tembisa and seeing them going down broke a lot of people’s hearts.