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‘WESLIANS’ BULLY ’LANDERS TO REACH FINAL

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LOBAMBA – Manzini Wanderers stunned a lethargic Mbabane Highlanders to storm into the SwaziBank Cup final.

Unanswered goals by Wanderers dribbling wizard Mike Dombo and talisman Aladeon Kola in each half propelled  the maroon and white outfit to their second final in four years at a packed to the rafters Somhlolo National Stadium yesterday. They got their revenge for the 1-2 loss in the 2009 final and further set up a first-of-its-kind decider against Young Buffaloes next Sunday (April 29). The home supporters jadedly dragged themselves out of the stadium in disbelief after witnessing a monotonous performance by their favourite side for the first time in a long time. The on-form duo of Thabiso Mokenkoane and Mthobisi Mngomezulu were hardly noticeable. The former, who is behind Highlanders’ rebirth had a heavily-bandaged knee and struggled as he appeared to be playing with an injury. Mngomezulu had to be substituted after overstaying his welcome alongside left-footed midfielder, Mlamuli ‘Mlaba’ Nkambule as well Zambia-born import Michael Musonda.

For Wanderers, it did not take long to hit the ground running, with skipper Lwazi ‘Shana’ Maziya testing Sidumo Vilakati with a fine header from a Jose Machado supply in the eighth minute. Just six minutes before the half-hour mark, Wanderers supporters were on their feet, as Man of the Match Dombo capitalised on a defensive mix-up to curl his effort into the net from close range. Highlanders were a little bit shaky at the back, but it was Mokenkoane, who had his team’s best chance of the half in the 34th minute. His effort from the edge to box went agonisingly wide. Wanderers took the narrow lead to the interval. Highlanders had managed to come out of their shells on resumption of play, but still struggled to trouble Romanus Igidimba between the sticks. It looked like Wanderers would eventually crack and the injury of trusted centre-back Sihle Mkhonta sent shivers down the visitors’ spines. The latter was replaced by Nkosiyazi Maphosa. A moment later, top referee Thulani Sibandze had to intervene, as a scuffle between Ndumiso Mabuza and Sicelo ‘Junior’ Simelane almost got out of hand.

Just when Highlanders  were pushing for the all-important equaliser, Wanders pushed forward like greased lightning and the combination play saw substitute Ali Matse setting up Kola with a pin-point cross. The latter’s grass-cutter rolled into the net 10 minutes from time. The goal sucked the energy out of Highlanders, who still had no response when Sibandze signaled for the end of proceedings. It was heartbreak for the hundreds of Highlanders loyalists, as the side exited in the semi-finals for a second straight year. Last year, it was Buffaloes, who inflicted misery on the black and white ensemble with a 1-0 win. For Wanderers supporters, who expectedly bellowed in excitement, they left the venue with renewed hope in the bid to win the tournament for the first time in three attempts. Their favourite team lost 0-2 to Moneni Pirates in the last final appearance in 2015.

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