Johannesburg - Katlego Mashego’s crisp finish in first-half stoppage-time helped Moroka Swallows climb to the top half of the Absa Premiership table with a narrow 1-0 win over Maritzburg United at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, in Port Elizabeth, on Friday night.
It was the 11th goal of the season for the veteran striker, who was played in superbly by Dikgang Mabalane, and even though the hosts created plenty of second-half chances, they failed to take them.
Mario Booysen came closest to an equaliser when he grazed the crossbar with a late header, while Cuthbert Malajila was also wasteful as the Team of Choice stayed sixth on the log, with the Birds drawing level on points, but remaining one position behind on goal difference.
Maritzburg, playing at the Eastern Cape venue due to a pre-arranged agreement with the city to take top-flight football to the region, began brightly with winger Dillon Sheppard managing to squeeze his way into some dangerous positions down the left flank early on, although Greg Etafia in the Swallows goal was rarely tested.
At the other end defender Luvhengo Mungomeni whisked a shot just metres over the frame of the goal, before a Mashego strike was correctly ruled out for off-side.
Moments later, Lefa Tsutsulupa had a go from distance and was on target, but Shuaib Walters was well-placed to catch the ball midway through the half.
Mashego then wasted a promising set-piece opportunity, poorly curling over from just outside the area.
Five minutes from the break, United had their first real chance on goal when Malajila was on the end of a looped Delron Buckley pass towards the back post, but he headed straight at Etafia, while Ruben Cloete crashed a powerful shot just wide of the left upright seconds later.
But the hosts were dealt a sucker punch on the stroke of the interval as Mabalane sprinted away down the right and cut back to Mashego, who beat two players by coming back inside and scored from the centre of the box.
Six minutes after the restart, Etafia had to be at his best to deny a stinging Michael Morton drive, with the goalkeeper acrobatically tipping over.
Moments later, Malajila headed over from another Sheppard cross as United upped the tempo in search of an equaliser.
On the hour mark, Lerato Chabangu combined excellently with Tsutsulupa, but the goal-bound shot from the former was deflected wide.
Ernst Middendorp’s men should have equalised in the 68th minute when Buckley’s superb ball through the middle released Malajila, who failed to beat an on-rushing Etafia one-on-one, instead dragging wide.
The Swallows custodian again had to be at his best when Buckley’s ambitious shot from way out on the right wing was dipping under the post, before being tipped over.
With time running out, Booysen came even closer to scoring after his header from a Sheppard free-kick clipped the crossbar on its way over.
And Malajila directed wide when Etafia was caught off his line in stoppage time.