Themba Zwane came off the bench to score a stoppage-time winner for Mamelodi Sundowns Monday and revive their flagging hopes of a South African Premiership title hat-trick.
The attacking midfielder, who turned 31 this month, struck a cross into the net on 91 minutes to earn the 2016 African champions a laboured 1-0 victory over Golden Arrows in chilly Soweto.
It moved second-place Sundowns to 50 points from 26 matches, three less than leaders Kaizer Chiefs, who they face Thursday at another Soweto stadium.
After the top-of-the-table showdown, Chiefs and Sundowns have three further fixtures each with the season ending on September 5.
Sundowns are seeking a second Premiership hat-trick while Chiefs, who have won a record 53 domestic trophies, are chasing their first silverware since 2015 after a record barren spell.
Zwane was an ironic match-winner as he had come under fire from coach Pitso Mosimane on the eve of the Arrows match.
“Themba is our most important player, but since the season restarted he has had minimal influence on our games, hence my decision to bench him,” said Mosimane.
But with Arrows comfortably containing Sundowns on a hard, bumpy pitch, the coach replaced his two wide midfielders and two forwards, Uruguayan Gaston Sirino and Venezuelan Ali Meza.
The lone goal was created by one substitute and scored by another with Lebohang Maboe pouncing on a loose ball and crossing for Zwane to beat goalkeeper Sifiso Mlungwana.
‘Fighting spirit prevailed’
“I wish the goal had come earlier, but they all count. We controlled the match and our fighting spirit prevailed,” said visibly relieved Mosimane.
“If you keeping banging at the door it will eventually come off the hinges and fall. The boys never stopped trying and deserved the three points.”
The loss left 11th-place Arrows without a win in four matches — the worst performing of the 16 clubs since the league resumed on August 11 after a five-month suspension.
Meanwhile, Maritzburg United and Bidvest Wits drew 0-0 and Bloemfontein Celtic came from behind twice to draw 2-2 with AmaZulu at Pretoria stadiums.
The point secured by Wits lifted them above SuperSport United to third on 45 points after a match in which they twice came close to leading only to be deprived by goal-line clearances.
AmaZulu moved off the bottom thanks to their point with Lehlohonolo Majoro and a Wandisile Letlabika own-goal giving them leads that Sera Motabeng and Ndumiso Mabena cancelled.
All league matches since the August 11 restart of the season after a five-month suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic are being played in a Gauteng province ‘bio bubble’.
Apart from training and playing, footballers, coaches, support staff and officials must stay in their hotels.