Stellenbosch FC earned a hard-fought 2-2 draw in the Promotion/Relegation Playoffs opener against Baroka on Wednesday
The home side rolled out a strong squad with Mame Niang leading the attack and Washington Arubi in between the sticks.
As for Baroka, they were not to be undone. They started with striker Phineas Matlakala, Victor Letsoalo and veteran left-back Punch Masenamela.
They missed key midfielder Letladi Madubanya through suspension, while the hosts also missed influential figures in Brent Adonis and Manti Mekoa through suspension.
Both sides struggled to play their usual short-passing game on a bumpy Athlone turf and were reduced to long balls most of the time.
Baroka were the first to created goalscoring chances after a mistimed clearance by Junaid Sait allowed Matlakala in on goal, but luckily, the didn’t find its way into goal.
Matlakala was in the thick of things yet again as he headed over the bar from a corner kick after 17 minutes with Stellenbosch’s defence in tatters following a series of corner-kicks.
Stellenbosch were proving hard to crack and used the threat of lanky forward Niang to make things happen for them.
They were dealt a blow after 39 minutes when Mxolisi Kunene put the visitors ahead after latching onto a cross at the back-post to give Arubi no chance.
Baroka looked for a second with Kunene looking menacing, but they could not make it count as Niang made his presence felt by setting up Jaarod Moroole for the equalizer two minutes before the break.
The danger for them didn’t end there. They battled to maintain the hard-running Bakgaga, who pressed them high early on in the second half in a bid to regain the lead.
The visitors went ahead after 54 minutes following a stunning free-kick from Nkosinathi Ndlovu that hit the underside of the bar before crossing the line.
Sammy Troughton threw caution to the wind, bringing on Cleophas Dube for Matthew Rodwell, and the former nearly haunted his former team, but his header went agonizingly wide.
Stellenbosch drew level one again when David Booysen headed home at the back-post following Diego Brown’s delivery in the 62nd minute.
As disheartened as they were, Bakgaga stepped up their game and looked to regain the lead for the third time.
Letsoalo came close 15 minutes to the end, but he was denied by Arubi at the near post.
The Zimbabwean goalkeeper again came to the rescue late on as he denied substitute Richard Matloga from stealing the winner with a point-blank save as both sides shared the spoils.