A goal in each half by Percy Tau and Khama Billiat saw Mamelodi Sundowns maintain their lead at the top of the Premier Soccer League (PSL) table.
Masandawana went into a clash with Chippa United at Loftus Versfeld Stadium looking to keep their hopes of a league title alive in a clash which promised fireworks with both clubs in need of victory in order to consolidate their respective positions as the league season reached its business end.
Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane was wary of the impact that fatigue would play considering that they were in action on Sunday against Cape Town City in the Nedbank Cup quarterfinals. But the 53-year-old understandably took a calculated risk as he again opted for the aging legs of Hlompho Kekana, while Percy Tau led the line. Thapelo Morena though was deemed unfit, meaning that Anele Ngcongca replaced the speedy full-back.
On the side of a considerably refreshed Chilli Boys, coach Vladislav Heric was hoping for his side to build on their recent victory over Free State Stars and hoped that the creativity of Kurt Lentjies would be enough to break down the stubborn Sundowns defence.
But despite both teams attacking threat, the opening stanza was a rather tightly fought contest with the battle in the centre of the park an intriguing affair. Chippa though, looked bright going forward and while they did have the Sundowns defenders on their toes, they failed to fashion anything of substance.
The game would have to wait until the 18th minute for its first chance on goal. Sundowns showed their constant attacking threat as a superb diagonal cross almost saw Sibusiso Vilakazi sneak the ball in at the near post with a glancing header, but the Chippa goalkeeper was alert to the danger.
Thereafter, the game almost immediately sparked into life and Chippa would feel that they should have been ahead after Lentjies played Linda Mntambo on goal. The attacker had a free run on goal, but could not beat Denis Onyango, who came racing out of his area to deny the away side.
Mntambo was certainly keeping Onyango busy as he again was in the thick of things just before the half-hour mark. The former Jomo Cosmos attacker capitalised on a mistake at the back but again was thwarted by the Uganda international.
But as fate would have it, Chippa would rue those missed opportunities. Following an impressive build-up, Gaston Sirino’s tame ball into the box should have been dealt with, but instead it landed at the feet of Tau who dinked the ball into the back of the net, registering not only his 10th goal of the season but gave Sundowns a vital lead going into the half-time break.
The second half was a far more free-flowing affair as Sundowns were eager to stamp their authority on the game. But while Sundowns looked confident, Chippa were not allowing themselves to be pushed aside. Mark Mayambela had a chance early on as he latched onto a loose ball but his powerful effort went wayward.
But again, Sundowns displayed just how dangerous they can be on the counter attack as Vilakazi was denied from point-blank range by Daniel Akpeyi. Sundowns were really tearing into the Chippa defence and Sirino was conducting the Brazilians’ orchestra, to the delight of the lively Loftus crowd.
With just 20 minutes to go, Akpeyi would be called into action again, this time from a Khama Billiat free kick. The Nigerian had to dig deep to deny what was a dangerous looking set piece as he dived to his left. Mosimane would then withdraw the ever dangerous Sirino, bringing on Themba Zwane as Mosimane looked for an added attacking impetus upfront.
To the Eastern Cape-based outfit’s credit, they refused to give up which created for a few nervy moments. Mxolisi Macuphu came within a whisker of finding an equaliser as his shot rose just over Onyango’s crossbar.
Nonetheless, with 10 minutes to go, the former African Champions showed just why they are so highly rated as they wrapped up the three points. A superb passage of play through the middle by Zwane saw Billiat grab hold of the ball and held off the defender, before placing the ball beyond the reach of Akpeyi.
Chippa did have one final chance to grab a consolation goal, but Onyango tipped the ball over the crossbar as Sundowns claimed a valuable three points on their road to success.