Sundowns cling to first place in South African title race

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Johannesburg (AFP) – Just four points separate leaders Mamelodi Sundowns from fourth-place Cape Town City Saturday after a dramatic day in the South African Premiership title race.

Defending champions Sundowns appeared in danger of losing the top spot they gained only three days ago after being held 0-0 at home by Bloemfontein Celtic, who lie seventh.

That result meant 2017 champions Wits would regain first place if they beat Cape Town at home, but they blew a two-goal half-time lead to crash 3-2 in Johannesburg.

Orlando Pirates, who last won the league title seven years ago, took advantage of Wits’ collapse to edge mid-table Golden Arrows 1-0 in Durban and rise to second.   

Sundowns have 40 points with a game in hand, Pirates 39, Wits 38, Cape Town 36 and SuperSport United can climb to 35 if they win Sunday at third-last Chippa United.

With eight rounds left of richest national league in Africa with 30 million rand ($2.1 mn/1.85 mn euro) prize money, the stage is set for a thrilling climax.

Sundowns continue to suffer from poor finishing and it cost them victory over Celtic, who conceded three goals when losing at home to strugglers Free State Stars last weekend.

“This title race is difficult,” conceded Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane, “and the club that can string together a run of victories will become champions.”

Wits looked set to take advantage of the draw in Pretoria as they established a 2-0 lead over Cape Town thanks to goals from Thulani Hlatshwayo and Gift Motupa.

South Africa captain Hlatshwayo sneaked into the box to nod a cross past Dutch goalkeeper Peter Leeuwenburgh on 29 minutes and Motupa calmly slotted a penalty just before half-time.

Fired up by a tongue lashing from coach Benni McCarthy, City pulled one back through Kermit Erasmus just a minute into the second half.

Amethyst Ralani levelled soon after with a shot that may not have crossed the goalline and a brilliantly struck Riyaad Norodien free-kick on 68 minutes won the match.

“We were so lethargic during the first half,” admitted former South Africa star McCarthy. “It is  not the first time this season we have taken 45 minutes before waking up.”

Wits coach Gavin Hunt seemed shattered by the sixth league loss of the season, with five at their 5,000-seat home ground in a university campus. 

“City walked through our defence, which is packed with national team players. How can that be? Our opponents had three chances and scored three goals.”