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Black Leopards win South African thriller to boost survival hopes

Soweto (South Africa) (AFP) – Debutant Tiklas Thutlwa scored the winner as Black Leopards shocked Maritzburg United 3-2 in Soweto on Sunday to boost hopes of avoiding relegation from the South African Premiership.

Leopards remained bottom below Polokwane City, but only on goal difference, and have five more matches to play.  

The match equalled the excitement of the dramatic 3-2 win of Kaizer Chiefs over Pokokwane the previous day in the first complete round of fixtures since March due to the coronavirus. 

Leopards built a two-goal lead behind closed doors at the 90,000-capacity Soccer City stadium only to concede twice before half-time. 

But Thutlwa scored on 51 minutes with a near-post header past Ghana goalkeeper Richard Ofori after a corner and it proved the decisive goal.

Zambian Mwape Musonda and Lefa Hlongwane had given Leopards from northeastern town Thohoyandou a 2-0 lead as they sought a sixth victory in 25 league matches this season.

Keagan Buchanan netted direct from a free-kick to halve the deficit and Mxolisi Kunene levelled a minute before half-time with a shot that goalkeeper King Ndlovu should have saved.

Buchanan had a chance to equalise again in stoppage time at the end of the match, but this time his free-kick sailed wide.

“After dominating the first  half hour, we suddenly struggled to contain Maritzburg attacks and this cost us dearly,” said Leopards co-coach Morgan Shivambu.

– ‘Mark much tighter’ –

“I told my players at half-time to mark much tighter and this worked well for us as we greatly reduced the number of Maritzburg raids.

“We worked hard on our fitness during the COVID-19 lockdown and it paid off today as we finishing strongly.

“While the victory was satisfying, we are still bottom of the table, but more performances like this and I am sure we can avoid relegation.”

Maritzburg coach and former South Africa midfielder Eric Tinkler slammed his side after they lost for only the sixth time in 25 Premiership outings.

“I am not happy and should not say too much about this performance. One expects far more from a club lying sixth in the standings. 

“Our defence was a shambles, utterly atrocious, so it is back to the drawing board before our next fixture against Mamelodi Sundowns.”

Meanwhile, SuperSport United and Bloemfontein Celtic remained fourth and 11th respectively after a 1-1 draw in Johannesburg.

Mzwanele Mahashe poked a loose ball into the net on 32 minutes for Celtic and Teboho Mokoena equalised soon after half-time with a soft goal direct from a free-kick.

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