Red-hot AmaZulu usurp PSL lead from Mamelodi Sundowns
Luvuyo Memela scored on the stroke of half time to take AmaZulu two points clear at the top of the DStv Premiership table as they defeated neighbours Lamontville Golden Arrows 1-0 in one of the most highly-charged KwaZulu-Natal derbies in years.
This victory, Usuthu’s 14th in 26 matches, saw the KZN team usurp the lead of three-time defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns, at least for 24 hours.
The Brazilians have to win against Orlando Pirates at Orlando Stadium on Sunday if they are to regain the top position that the once invincible-appearing Pretoria giants have occupied all season. Sundowns have a three-game in hand advantage over AmaZulu, so are still title favourites.
On the lush but uneven surface of Sugar Ray Xulu Stadium in Clermont in Durban, Memela’s goal, taken from just outside the area, came when the match look set for a stalemate by the break.
Memela, scoring his eighth goal of the season, linked up with former Orlando Pirates teammate Augustine Mulenga to beat Sifiso Mlungwana with a well-placed ground shot that took a slight deflection off the Arrows defence.
Usuthu deserved their deal as they were the ones asking most of the questions in an at times disjointed first half where both sides struggled to find rhythm in their play.
The match started at a flying pace but there was no side able to string a good number of passes together to pose any threat to either of the goalkeepers. Perhaps the unusual level of expectation surrounding this particular Durban ferby got better of the players as they battled to settle their nerves.
Both teams came into the match after taxing away midweek fixtures, AmaSulu thrashing against Cape Town City 5-1 in Cape Town for their biggest win of the season, while Abafana Besithende held log leaders Mamelodi Sundowns to a credible 0-0 draw in Pretoria to remain third and among the title challengers.
Mulenga, who has provided 11 assists and five goals for Usuthu this season, aimed to lighten up the game in the 14th when he provided a good pass to Lehlohonolo Majoro, who crossed for Thabo Qalinge, whose powerful shot was blocked before reaching Mlungwana.
Arrows had their moments, but these were not as sharp and close to finding the back of net as their neighbours. Veli Mothwa, in Usuthu’s goals, had little to do for most of the first 45 minutes in which Arrows striker Knox Mutizwa, Michael Gumede and Pule Mmodi had no break.
Arrows tried to up their game after the restart and hit the upright near the end, but it was still AmaZulu who looked more dangerous on transition after leaving all possession to the home side. Majoro should have doubled Usuthu’s lead in the 63rd minute when he broke through in one of those counterattacks but he shot wide with just Mlungwana to beat.
Having been the first team to reach 50 points this season and in their PSL history, where their previous best finish was seventh, Usuthu now have to earn positive results against Pirates, Swallows, Baroka and Maritzburg United to have a great chance to win their first league title in 49 years.
Usuthu, who are on a 16-match unbeaten run, won the National Professional Soccer League League title in 1972 with the team that had the late Sugar Ray Xulu, Eric “Nduna kaNdaba” Ngidi and Frederick “The Cat” Mfeka starring for the Durban club. McCarthy, who is linked heavily with a move to Bafana Bafana, may well deliver that title for a club that last won a trophy in 1992.