(At Somhlolo National Stadium)
LOBAMBA – The bragging rights of the Capital City are back, firmly in Mbabane Highlanders hands.
Following a nine-game winless streak stretching back to April 3, 2016 in this fixture, a lone strike by Highlanders South Africa-born import Kenneth Moloto helped them to turn the tables against sworn arch-rivals Mbabane Swallows in the Ingwenyama Last 16 clash at packed Somhlolo National Stadium on Sunday.
The scenes at the venue after referee Mbongeni Shongwe’s final whistle depicted sheer ecstasy and relief for the visiting supporters who were ready to throw a 24-hour party just inside the field of play. Highlanders now have their name in the hat ahead of this morning’s quarter-final draw of the Sincephetelo Motor Vehicle Accident Fund-sponsored tournament and they are one of few remaining big guns alongside Manzini Wanderers and holders Young Buffaloes.
The hosts, who are now without a goal in three straight matches in all competitions, jadedly dragged themselves out of the venue and paid the price for a tactical gamble that saw them starting with four wingers in midfield. Goalkeeper Sandanezwe Mathabela was again in the spotlight after reacting belatedly and failed to make what could have been a routine save. Referee Shongwe was also heavily criticised for turning a blind eye on Wonder ‘Samba Jive’ Nhleko’s foul in the box by Jimoh Moses. After all the drama, the three-time champions are exiting in the Last 16 for the first time since the launch of the tournament in 2015.
Despite the drama that had surrounded head coach Thabo ‘Koki’ Vilakati, who was momentarily suspended, the away side took the game by the scruff of the neck, with Swallows seasoned defender Sfiiso Mabila forced to make a goal line clearance from a Lindani ‘Rio’ Matsenjwa snap shot inside the opening minute. Even though Swallows were far from playing their normal game, as they opted for route one most of the time; they did have meaningful chances during the early exchanges. ‘Samba Jive had stung goalkeeper Khanyakwezwe Shabalala with a delightful effort from outside the box after good interplay while a curled Tony ‘TT’ Tsabedze free-kick was desperately cleared just from about a yard out in the 33rd minute. The tension could be cut with a blunt knife, with Highlanders roaring in disapproval whenever referee Shongwe made a call against them.
Just two minutes before the break, came the big moment. From a quick attack against the run of play, Josef Lekata set up Moloto with a diagonal pass. The latter raced to the box and shook off Mabila before rolling the ball past a stretched Mathabela to send their loyalists into a frenzy. It was the goal that separated the teams during the interval and supporters had waited for it for over 223 minutes of football following goalless stalemates in the last two match-ups.
On resumption of play, Swallows coach Honour Janza had attempted to rectify his mistakes by sacrificing one of the wingers for the resourceful Nhlanhla Ngwenya while ‘Samba Jive’ also made way for the enterprising Bonginkhosi ‘Gudas’ Dlamini. Ngwenya almost restored parity in the 68th minute with a stunning long range effort that went agonisingly wide. The red and white outfit had tried to close the gaps in midfield, but their play left much to be desired as goalkeeper Shabalala remained underemployed between the sticks. Chances were few and far between towards the end, with ‘Rio’s delightful attempt from outside the box in the 89th minute the last throw of the dice for Highlanders. It did not matter at the end for the latter, as they did not only end their jinx over their rivals, but returned to winning ways for the first time since November 24, 2019.
Referee – Mbongeni Shongwe
Assistants: Zamani Simelane, Sifiso Nxumalo
Fourth official: Celumusa Siphepho
Match Commissioner: Bhekisizwe Mkhabela
Man of the match: Kenneth Moloto (Highlanders)
Swallows – Sandanezwe,‘Tower’, Mncedisi, Pemba, Mabila, Paito,‘Samba Jive’ (‘Gudas’), Siphamandla (Nhlanhla), Sandile, ‘Nunu’ (Zungu), TT
Highlanders – Khanyakezwe, Peter, Vukile, Simphiwe, Jimoh, Menzi Mamba, ‘Mlaba’, ‘Rio’, Lekata (Menzi Sithole), Mashele (‘Sawa’), Moloto
TEAMS THAT HAVE QUALIFIED FOR THE QUARTER-FINAL DRAW:
- Young Buffaloes
- Moneni Pirates
- Manzini Wanderers
- Madlenya FC
- Tabankulu Callies
- Green Mamba
- Seven Dreams
- Mbabane Highlanders
(The quarter-final draw will be conducted at the sponsor’s boardroom, SMVFA today at 10am)