Johannesburg - Highlands Park are back in the Absa Premiership.
The Lions of the North became the National First Division (NFD) champions on Saturday afternoon following their thrashing of University of Pretoria 5-1 at Makhulong Stadium in Tembisa.
At the beginning of the season, Highlands directors Sinky Mnisi and Larry Brookstone made it clear that they wanted a quick return to the Premier Soccer League (PSL) after going down at the end of last season.
Their goal has been accomplished as the club gained automatic promotion to the elite league with four games to spare - a rare occurrence in the NFD.
The final whistle was met with celebrations and jubilation from supporters. Goals from Sphiwe Mahlangu, Peter Shalulile and Lindokuhle Mbatha, as well as Vukile Mngqibisa’s brace, ensured their immediate return to the top-flight division.
Chemon Petersen scored the consolation goal for the visitors.
The appointment of Owen Da Gama as the head coach and Allan Freese as his assistant seems to be one of the best decisions made by the Highlands management. The duo have not lost a league match since their arrival in September.
Their stint managed to surpass the now defunct Thanda Royal Zulu’s record of 19 unbeaten games - they have now gone 21 games without recording a defeat.
Highlands dominated most of Saturday’s game - as they did with the league campaign this season. They were not going to be denied the opportunity to wrap it up at home, and they did so in style.
With Highlands winning automatic promotion, playoff spots and relegation battles will now take centre stage. The remaining games should be interesting at the top and bottom.
Any slip-up will mean dropping places on the table, and no one can afford to do that.
Black Leopards, Real Kings, Jomo Cosmos, Witbank Spurs, Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila and Cape Town All Stars are in contention for the second and third spots, where they will contend with the 15th-placed Absa Premiership club in the playoffs.
At the bottom, Royal Eagles, Uthongathi FC, Richards Bay FC, Super Eagles, Ubuntu Cape Town and Mthatha Bucks tussle for points to save their NFD status. The teams that finish 15th and 16th will be relegated to the ABC Motsepe League.