Sundowns see off fired-up Royal AM to lift Premiership trophy in style
Mamelodi Sundowns got the victory they would have craved to lift the DStv Premiership trophy in style, but had to fight for every inch of it in a thrilling 3-2 win against fired-up Royal AM at Chatsworth Stadium on Monday.
Downs had already wrapped up the title last month with four matches to go.
With goals by Gaston Sirino in the 13th minute, Thabiso Kutumela in the 48th and Peter Shalulile in the 61st, Sundowns, who had slickly seen off Royal’s challenge in the opening hour, looked like they might run away with the match.
But, after Downs goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene saved a penalty from Victor Letsoalo, the Bafana Bafana striker’s goal in the 69th and Mokete Mogaila’s in the 76th gave Royal a scoreline their performance deserved.
The defeat leaves Royal needing a win from their final game against Orlando Pirates in Chatsworth on Friday night, rescheduled because of the Buccaneers reaching the Caf Confederation Cup final, to overtake Cape Town City and finish in second place.
This game on Saturday had to be abandoned midway through the opening half due to a waterlogged pitch. Since then, Sundowns were hit by a bout of flu that laid several players low. As is a trademark of a club that possesses three quality squads, Downs still put out a strong starting XI.
Sundowns got it all wrong in bizarre fashion in their second-last game, a shock 3-0 defeat to Stellenbosch FC at Loftus Versfeld. The Brazilians were in a menacing mood to stick to a cleverer, tighter gameplan against Royal and ensure they could lift the trophy on the back of a victory.
Downs absorbed Royal’s pressure and ensured they lifted their tempo when they had a sniff going forward, especially in critical phases as they notched goals soon after the start of each half.
After an evenly-matched beginning to the game, the Tshwane giants conjured a goal almost out of nothing.
Sphelele Mkhulise’s cross from deep on the right seemed speculative, but was an accurate delivery to the unmarked run at the far post of Sirino to place a volley past goalkeeper Patrick Nyame. The move looked like it had been practised many times on a training ground.
Royal lifted themselves to apply pressure. Downs’ defensive structure, initially much-tightened from their off-day against Stellenbosch, held firm.
Downs scored with another simple, training ground move moments back from the break. Neo Maema’s foray up the left was picked out by Lyle Lakay’s chip and the midfielder fed Sirino in the middle, who turned and played Kutumela down the right to pick his spot with a low, first-time finish.
Sundowns looked like they might run away with it when Maema’s pass picked out the run to beat offside of Teboho Mokoena, who laid off for Shalulile to sweep league goal No 23 into an open goal.
But Royal again stepped up their game. Grant Kekana was adjudged by referee Jelly Chavani to have fouled Letsoalo in the box. The striker’s spot-kick in the 62nd was stopped by the legs of Mweene.
Eight minutes later Royal pulled one back, Thabo Matlaba’s pass playing Tebogo Potsane behind the defence on the left who squared for Letsoalo to make amends with the finish.
The Durban team made it 3-2 just after Potsane’s strike forced Mweene into a save palmed over the bar. Potsane’s resultant corner got stuck under the feet of Mokoena and squirted to Mogaila, who beat Mweene from close range.
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