By CHRIS TOTOBELA
All roads led to JD Dlepu Stadium on Saturday. The South African Breweries Regional League Nedbank Cup clash between Jacaranda Aces and Maru was on show.
The game was halted for ten to fifteen minutes when Maru officials complained about the referee’s early decisions and suggested that he be substituted as he seemed half drunk. Still, Aces’ officials argued that as much as he looks half drunk, they hadn’t seen anything that might result in him being substituted.
The two teams did not disappoint the huge crowd who witnessed this excellent encounter.
As was expected, the game started with a blistering pace, with both teams going at each other, looking for openings. It was Maru that settled quicker and started dominating the early exchanges. They threatened the Aces’ goal and were unlucky not to take the lead when their prolific goal scorer Liyabona “Silent Assasin” Nondlwana found himself one-on-one with the keeper but shot tamely wide.
Aces took the lead when Athenkosi Mnyobe headed home after a long throw from their throw-in specialist caught Maru defenders napping.
The Aces took the lead to halftime. Both teams made substitutions in the second half, but the most notable one was Simamkele Dika, who came on for Maru and immediately made an impact. He controlled the midfield, played progressive passes, and finished off a good move that he started from midfield with a well-taken shot to equalize for Maru.
Maru pressed very hard in search of a winning goal and was unfortunate on two occasions when the referee disallowed what seemed to be legitimate goals. Firstly the far side assistant referee flagged for offside after the hard-working and energetic Vuyani Skeyi outsprang the Acedefencese, rounded the keeper, and played off a perfect cut back for Nondlwana to tap home but was surprisingly judged to be offside.
Maru never stopped trying and was once again denied when the keeper punched away the ball from Nondlwana’s attempted scissors kick. The ball fell perfectly for Simamkele Dika, who steered it home without being touched but was once again mysteriously disallowed.
Aces slowly came back into the game and were unfortunate not to take the lead in the dying minutes when a well-struck long-range shot beat the keeper but not the crossbar. The game finished at one goal a piece and went straight to penalties. Maru made a goal-keeping change putting Vuyani Skeyi in goal for the shootout, and it paid off as he made a brilliant save.
Maru won 3-1 on penalties and advanced to the next stage of the competition. It was a good game of football with both teams displaying attacking football, but the match officials nearly spoilt the fun.