Masandawana returned to winning ways with a comfortable victory over Ea Lla Koto in the Free State
The Premier Soccer League (PSL) returned on Monday evening with Masandawana travelling to Bethlehem in search of redemption following their disappointing loss against Polokwane City prior to the international break, while Stars’ new coach Luc Eymael was looking to hit the ground running as he began his tenure.
Meanwhile, injuries and one eye on the weekend’s Caf Champions League encounter hampered Sundowns’ preparations.
Sundowns coach Mosimane made several changes, giving Razak Brimah his debut in between the sticks, while Leonardo Castro returned for the first time this season.
On the side of Ea Lla Koto, Eymael gave a number of new signings, including Patrick Phungwayo and former Sundowns striker Edward Manqele their debuts.
As expected Sundowns dominated proceedings from the off as Stars remained compact and looked to play on the break, but it was Stars who came agonisingly close from breaking the deadlock with 10 minutes played. Poor defending by Motjeka Madisha allowed Relebogile Mokhuoane to steal the ball off his feet but to the youngster’s relief the attacker’s shot went narrowly wide of Sundowns’ goal.
While the Brazilians looked threatening going forward, they at times looked fragile at the back.
Nonetheless, with just 20 minutes played Sundowns threatened Stars keeper Badra Sangare, but the Ivorian keeper was up to the task as he stood tall to deny Castro from close range.
It was turning into a frustrating half for Sundowns at that point and Mosimane’s plans were dealt a further blow with Anthony Laffor forced off just before the half-hour mark with an injury.
Subsequently, Percy Tau was brought on and his introduction added an extra attacking dimension to the team, and with minutes remaining in the half, it was Tau who executed a stunning free-kick to perfection. The goal gave Sundowns the slender advantage going into the half-time break, and would certainly have calmed Mosimane’s nerves.
The resumption of the second half at Goble Park saw Sundowns look the better of the two teams.
With just 50 minutes played, Castro once again had a golden opportunity to double Sundowns’ advantage, but he failed to direct his glancing header goal wards despite finding himself unmarked in the Stars box.
With the hour-mark fast approaching, the game became a sloppy affair with several fouls being committed in the middle of the park. That was until Tau produced another moment of individual magic with a fantastic strike from outside of the box.
The goal came as the killer blow to an already demoralised Stars outfit and Sundowns continued to apply pressure, going in search of more goals. The Sundowns technical team even used the opportunity to introduce former Stars’ attacker Thokozani Sekotlong as they withdrew Castro with just over 20 minutes remaining.
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To Stars credit, they did not give up and Danny Venter came close to finding a consolation from a free-kick in a dangerous area.
While both sets of keepers were hardly tested in the second half, Brimah did well to hold on to a long-range drive by Mokhuoane five minutes from time.
Stars were having a real go at it, and deep into stoppage time, they were rewarded for their persistence as Nhlanhla Vilakazi headed home, making for a nervy last few seconds, but Sundowns held on for the win.