By CHRIS TOTOBELA
The 2019 edition of the New Year’s Cup kicked off on the Day of Reconciliation with a double header at a packed JD Dlephu stadium.
First up on 16 December was a Group B clash between Gauteng outfit Manyora and Port Elizabeth based Sophakama FC, which ended in a one-all draw. The main game of the day saw Makhanda-based Maru taking on PE side, Motherwell Academy.
The game started with both teams being very cautious while trying to control the midfield, where congestion made it very difficult for either team to create clear-cut chances in the first half.
It got a bit rough as the midfield battle intensified but the referee handled the situation very well. Both teams were forced to take shots from a distance, as it was difficult to break each other’s defensive wall.
There was no goal at the halftime break.
In the second half, the game started opening up a bit.
MARU made use of the spaces and had the better of the early exchanges in the second half. A long, well-placed through pass caught the Academy defence napping and found Vuyani Skeyi one-on-one with the keeper. He calmly slotted the ball into the back of the net.
Motherwell Academy fought their way back into the game as they started dominating the midfield. They were rewarded when a well-taken shot caught the keeper by surprise to level the score.
Seemingly shaken by this, the home side pushed hard for a winner and almost got it when Skeyi shot millimetres wide after a great move. Academy’s hopes of getting something from this opening Group A encounter were dashed by Akhona Mnquma, who headed home a good cross that found him unmarked with acres of space.
Once again, the PE side’s defence were caught napping at a crucial time and they were made to pay after a decent showing throughout the game.
Academy tried to fight back for an equaliser, but time was not on their side and the referee blew the final whistle. MARU won the game by two goals to one and got the perfect start to the tournament in their quest for their third New Year’s Cup title.