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Birds' in dreamland

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(At Somhlolo Stadium)

Mb. Swallows................(1) 5,
Massoye 45th, 62nd, 82nd, Ncube 78th, Welile 85th
Eleven Men....................(1) 1,
Doctor 1st

LOBAMBA – Two words will sound like sweet melody to the red and white part of the Capital City this Sunday morning: Mbabane Swallows, the CHAMPIONS ELECT.

Bookmakers may continue making their best bets, sangomas may throw their bones, believers may pray to the Almighty God but the 2008/09 MTN League title is now for Mbabane Swallows to lose.

As much as it is certainly going down to the wire given that football is unpredictable as much as it’s beautiful but after the ruthless Mbabane giants flummoxed a hapless Eleven Men leaving them in fright under a torrential of five goals here yesterday, the title race looks more like, at best, a marathon with the East Africans (the Kenyans) on the driving seat or the Comrades Marathon with the Russian twins quick out of the blocks.

The ‘Beautiful Birds’ took advantage of their nearest title challengers, Royal Leopards and Mbabane Highlanders playing their tricky encounters this afternoon, to jump back to the summit of the log, cruising to a three point lead with a game to play.
(Continued on Page 39)

This afternoon, Leopards face their own rivals, Green Mamba whilst Mbabane Highlanders have a mountain to climb when they date plucky Manzini Wanderers at the Mhlume and Somhlolo Stadium respectively.
Yesterday’s resounding 5-1 butchering of a disappointing Eleven Men, who paraded an archaic game plan of taking an early lead and then trying to defend it for the next 89 minutes, clearly sent a statement of intent from the 2005 league champions.

The enchanting victory, celebrated like the championship had been won itself by the less than 3 000 Swallows fans, not only took the ‘Birds’ three points ahead of Leopards – and four points ahead of bitter rivals, Mbabane Highlanders - but it also ensured they have the same goal difference with the police side – 17.

Thanks to a brilliant hat-trick by Cameroonian hit-man, Etienneh Massoye, who not only took his tally to 17 goals but created a little history of his own, surpassing the 15-goal barrier, which has not been the case since the free scoring former Eleven Men’s Burundian striker, Habimani ‘Mandela’ Amani harvested 20 goals in the 1996 season when the once mighty Siteki glamour boys swept the boards except for the Trade Fair Cup.
How the mighty have fallen
If anything, Eleven Men played like a proper first division outfit yesterday despite jumping to the lead whilst some of the fans were still taking their seats. Exactly one minute 28 seconds, Doctor ‘16V’ Nxumalo re-lived his hey-day magic, when he expertly controlled a defence freezing pass from another has-been striker, Mduduzi ‘Aghahowa’ Mdluli, before firing a low shot which caught Swallows goalkeeper, Sifiso Dlamini napping and Swallows defence ball-watching.

It seemed a perfect start for the relegation haunted Siteki outfit, who could have gone 2-0 up in the 12th minute when ‘Doctor’ again saw his header missing the target by inches with Swallows defence in no-man’s land.
With Eleven Men naively resorting to ultra-defensive tactics and some shockingly delaying tactics by goalkeeper, Bright Nxumalo, Swallows continued to pile the pressure.

Midfield maestro, Sandile Mdlovu tried a phony version of Diego Maradona’s hand of God when he connected a Mandla Palma cross in the 25th minute but after referee, Gilbert Dlamini had bizarrely given the goal, he changed his mind after being confronted by Eleven Men players. He relented and gave Mdlovu a well deserved caution in one of the three decisions where Gilbert was in a collision course with his assistant referees, Ali Nonjola and Thulani Nsibandze much to the chagrin of both sets of team fans.

Swallows’ enterprising striker, Welile Maseko, the Man of the Match, could not believe his eyes when his glancing header was cleared off the line two minutes later by defender, Derrick Masinga and when Mdlovu ballooned another glorious chance over the bar right inside the box after Taribo Bhembe had laid the ball on his path in the 30th minute, Swallows might have feared for the worst.

But with a striker as lethal as Massoye and his striking partners, Welile and Taribo in tow, and Eleven Men defending with their backs against the wall, it was a matter of time before the bubble burst. One man took the initiative and he is the leading goal-scorer, Massoye. He controlled unmarked inside the box a free kick from Muhle Dlamini before latching a sizzling shot into the far corner right on the stroke of half-time.

As Eleven Men found their way back into the pitch via an unauthorized entry for the second half, it seemed the muti belief would again take centre stage but it was Massoye’s day and boy, did he shine on the stage.
With Eleven Men having lost their dependable defender, Ricky Sibiya through injury, forcing Celucolo Mmema to move into midfield, Swallows took control of the match. Massoye notched his second goal after brilliantly turning the ball into the top corner of the net following a well weighted free kick by Mdlovu in the 62nd minute and in the process, he literally read the last rites for Eleven Men.

Watching Jomo Cosmos owner, Jomo Sono on the Eastern Stand smiled sheepishly as his targeted man, Taribo Bhembe floated like a butterfly to meet an inviting Welile Maseko cross in the 67th minute but only to watch the ball agonizingly hitting the post. Even the big man (Bra J) held his head in sheer amazement.
Taribo’s second attempt after Massoye returned the rebound to his feet was cleared off the line by Samo Sibiya but no doubt, it was now a matter of not whether Swallows will score another goal, but how many. When Massoye missed a sitter after a delightful pass from Taribo Bhembe in the 76th minute, it had Swallows boss, Victor Gamedze in the Royal box kicking his heels in frustration. But only for second half substitute, Stanford Ncube, who came in for Sizwe Shabangu who had spent 26 minutes on the pitch after earlier coming in for Mandla Palma, to calm their nerves with probably the easiest goal of his career.

Defender, Derrick Masinga committed a schoolboy error, losing the ball in his own half and Ncube took the loose ball and fired into the left corner of the net to make it 3-1. Eleven Men lost their heads and probably their elite league status.
A brilliant move between Taribo and Welile ended with Massoye firing his 17th goal of a memorable season - a blockbuster shot that rested at the far corner of the net in the 82nd minute provoking wild scenes of bedlam from the Swallows grandstand and when Welile Maseko connected a Taribo Bhembe cross in the 85th minute in a goal that Eleven Men players protested furiously that it never crossed the line, it was evident their epitaph had been written even in heaven or in hell.
Stand-in coach, Oscar ‘Gogo’ Simelane walked dejectedly as his players wobbled off the pitch whilst Swallows fans were in sheer dreamland with one game to play.
SWALLOWS: Sifiso, Muhle, Elias, Kopeli, Mosoatsi, Mgonodi, Wawa, Mdlovu, Welile, Taribo, Massoye, Mandla (Sizwe – Ncube)
ELEVEN MEN – Bright, Ricky (Talos), Nkululeko, Derrick, Mana, Samo, Thamsanqa, Thandokuhle, Doctor, Sibusiso (Mxolisi), Aghahowa
Referee – Gilbert Dlamini
Assistants – Ali Nonjola and Thulani Sibandze
Crowd – less than 3 000
Yellow cards – Ricky, Mana Yaw (Eleven Men)
Swallows      Eleven Men
6         Corner kicks             4
10       Shots on target    4
6         Shots off target       4
6            Free kicks                 3
It was a game where both goalkeepers weren’t called upon to make some brilliant saves but Swallows goalkeeper, Sifiso Dlamini did well to save a treacherous shot by Talos Mmema in the 88th minute after Swallows right full back, Muhle Dlamini had been found wanting.
No doubt, Sandile Mdlovu’s free kick in the 47th minute left the whole Stadium in deathly silence but pity it went agonizingly wide.
How Etienneh Massoye missed when it looked easier to score than to miss in the 76th minute after Taribo Bhembe had laid ball on his path with goalkeeper to beat remains one of the mysteries of this game. It goes to his own collection of ‘miss of the season’ tally, which far surpass the 17 goals he has scored!
No doubt, Etienneh Massoye’s third goal and Swallows fourth was a master class. It was a team goal as Mdlovu, Taribo and Welile combined brilliantly showing why Swallows are the best team going forward with their champagne football all day long and Massoye crowned it with a goal that was as ferocious and deceptive Eleven Men goalkeeper, Bright Nxumalo is not to be blamed for only seeing the ball when he picked it from his own net. Sheer class!
Welile Maseko (Swallows): On a day, Massoye would have walked away with this award, if there had been any but Welile Maseko’s contribution cannot be left unnoticed. He has been Swallows form player these days and again, he had another brilliant game skinning Eleven Men defender, Nkululeko Simelane alive on the left flank all day long.

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