Hardbody . . . . . . . . (0)0 Highlanders . . . . . . (2) 2
Report by Ephraim Shoko
HIGHLANDERS’ chase for the championship remained on course yesterday when they beat troubled Hardbody in Castle Lager Premier Soccer League match played at Ascot Stadium to remain two points behind log leaders Dynamos, who posted victory over Monomotapa at Rufaro Stadium.
Mathematically, Hardbody can still survive if they win their remaining two matches and reach 29 points and Gunners, Black Mambas and Blue Rangers lose their games.
Two goals in the first half by Mthulisi Maphosa and Cleopas Dube in the 22nd minute and 40th minute respectively were enough to give the Bulawayo side three points.
Highlanders coach Kelvin Kaindu lauded his charges for the superb first half performance, which saw them taking the game far from the reach of their opponents.
Despite the fact that Highlanders’ bitter rivals and log leaders Dynamos also posted victory to remain at the top of the log with two games left before the end of the season, Kaindu remained adamant that the title race was still open and would be decided on the last day of the season.
“I give credit to the boys. They played well in the first half and managed to get the crucial goals which won us the match. Hardbody tried to come back in the second half, but we remained resolute in defence, guarding our goals.
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“The title race is not over yet, we are still in it and I believe the title will be decided on the very last day of the season, in the last 90 minutes of the season,” said Kaindu.
His Hardbody counterpart, Godfrey Tamirepi, who looked dejected after the match, conceded defeat, but still gave credit to his team for putting up a spirited performance in the second half.
Tamirepi rued his team’s numerous chances which they failed to convert in the second half, saying the missed chances made the difference at the end of the day.
“It was a good game. Highlanders played well in the first half and took their chances. We tried to come back in the second half, creating a lot of chances, but failed to convert them, which made the difference at the end of the day,” said Tamirepi, who admitted that it was all over for his charges this season.
Highlanders dominated the first half with Masimba Mambare and Knox Mtizwa running rings on the flanks creating anxious moments for the Hardbody defence.
The Bulawayo side got the opener in the 22nd minute from Maphosa’s rebound from a clearance by Hardbody goalkeeper Ashley Rayners from a Lawson Nkomo corner kick.
Maphosa’s shot from the edge of the box beating a sea of Hardbody defenders who were swarming their goal area, to send the multitudes of Highlanders supporters into wild cheers.
After the goal, Highlanders continued to pile pressure on the hosts and had a penalty appeal rejected by referee Norman Matemera after Mambare was brought down in the box by Roy Useni.
The Bulawayo side’s pressure paid off in the 40th minute when Mtizwa roasted his man on the left side and sent in a cross for an unmarked Dube in the box, who headed past a desperately diving Rayners for Bosso’s second goal.
Hardbody coach Tamirepi responded to the goals by pulling out tiring Owen Motsi for Richard Jongwe and Dumisani Mufudze for Calisto Maheya in the 44th minute.
The changes added impetus in the hosts’ game as they started taking the game to Highlanders.
Hardbody returned stronger in the second half with Maheya and Jongwe causing some trouble for Highlanders.
Useni could have pulled one back for the Gweru side, but his shot from a rebound inside the penalty box went high with Highlanders goalkeeper Ariel Sibanda beaten.
The hosts’ game was to go a gear up when Tamirepi introduced Nhlanhla Ncube for Pineal Manhope in the 62nd minute and Ncube kept the Highlanders defence on their toes with his pace and dribbling.
The speedy winger created a lot of chances with his forays upfront on the left side of attack, but the attacking duo of Jacob Muzokomba and Maheya failed, on numerous occasions, to convert the chances into goals, much to the agony of the handful of Hardbody faithful, who were strongly backed by Dynamos supporters.