MHLUME – Could MTN League defending champions, Royal Leopard be faltering at the most crucial stage of the competition?
Could the star studded ensemble be headed for a costly slump with five games to go? These are just two of the questions Sifiso ‘Nuro’ Ntibane and his technical bench could be asking themselves after slumping to a crippling 3-3 draw against Correctional Services’ ensemble, Green Mamba yesterday. The thrilling MTN League second round encounter was played at the Mhlume Stadium yesterday.
Leopard’s lead on top of the log standings has been cut down to five points by the mean-looking Mbabane Swallows, who thrashed Red Lions 5-1 at the Somhlolo National Stadium to pile the pressure on the log leaders.
On Saturday against a determined Green Mamba side, Leopard twice surrendered their lead to eventually settle for a share of the spoils in the free-flowing clash, which could have gone either way.
The police ensemble had done well to cancel out a Banele Mdluli opener. The aggressive striker finished off a rebound after a woefully off form Mphikeleli Dlamini had spilled a harmless looking cross from the left flank. Mdluli rattled the net from close range.
However Leopard never panicked. They never rushed their attacks but were patient with their build ups. Attacking midfielder Zweli ‘Mlilo’ Nxumalo then evened matters with a classy strike seven minutes after the opener.
The gifted midfielder showed his class when he calmly controlled a long ball sold a dummy to Siyabonga Mdluli before pulling the trigger with his left foot. It was a classic strike.
Leopard then surged ahead hardly 45 seconds after the restart through marksman Mthunzi Mkhontfo. He punished a flat footed defence to toe poke the ball and beat Njabuliso Simelane between the Green Mamba goals.
It appeared like the police outfit had done enough to clinch it.
However Green Mamba had other ideas. Second half substitute Welile Maseko then beat Mphikeleli with a cheeky strike from inside the area. The Leopard goalkeeper could have surely done better in this instance.
With about 18 minutes left on referee Thulani Sibandze’s clock, Leopard though they had wrapped it up when defender Sifiso ‘Sushi’ Nkambule scored after a corner kick on the right flank. Indeed, it appeared a done job by the defending champions.
Green Mamba’s Maseko was back to break hearts yet again though with his second goal and his team’s third. This time, the speedy forward let fly a cracking shot from just the edge of the danger area, which Mphikeleli could only help into the net.
(At Mhlume Stadium)
Mlilo 20th, Mthunzi 45th, Sushi 72nd
Banele 13th, Welile 66th, 76th
Leopard – Mphikeleli, Sizwe, Ntimane, Sifiso, Machawe, Ncamiso (Chicken), Mzoro (Steenkamp), Mxolisi, Mthunzi, Mlilo, Juries (Mathokoza)
Green Mamba – Njabuliso, Lawrence, Gcinizwi, Chauke, Siyabonga, Mandla (Mcebo), Njabulo (Civil), Phumlani, Phinda, Mbuso (Welile) and Banele