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‘BULL’ SURVIVE EZULWINI UTD SCARE

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MANZINI – Mbabane Highlanders scrapped through to Ingwenyama Cup semi-finals after penalties in a tense quarter-final clash against Ezulwini United played here yesterday.

Highlanders survived another exit scare after penalty shootouts as the game ended in a 1-all draw. Highlanders in the Last 16  came   from behind to conquer Louis XIV on penalties.
Ezulwini United took a shock lead through Captain Mphucuko ‘Smoothies’ Dlamini in the 56th minute and Thami Zulu revived their hopes in the referee’s additional time. Goalkeeper Khanyakwezwe Shabalala reproduced his previous round heroics, grabbing one penalty to catapult his team into the semi-finals of the Sincephetelo Motor Vehicle Accidents Fund (SMVAF) sponsored competition.

blocked

The national team Sihlangu goalkeeper blocked Nkosingiphile Mathe’s decisive penalty as Simphiwe Makhanya had hit the woodwork with his second spot kick. Meanwhile, Mathe, who was just introduced after ‘Bull’ equalised, did not save a single penalty. Meanwhile, creating some drama before the shootouts was a scuffle among team players, which saw Moloto booked. The remaining quartet now comprises of the tournament’s specialist in being three-time winners Mbabane Swallows. Swallows thrashed Pigg’s Peak Rangers 4-0 in a curtain raise encounter yesterday. The others are the 2018/19 season’s winners Young Buffaloes and defending champions Green Mamba who booked the slots worth E210 000 on Saturday. ‘Bull’,   on the other hand, have played two Ingwenyama Cup finals.

However, United have settled for the E75 000 quarter-final finish prize as they will shift focus towards surviving relegation. Capital city giants dominated the first half of the game but failed to convert their chances, just like in their previous MTN Premier League fixture. They managed to win the encounter in the second half with a solitary strike by Menzi Sithole. As the first half progressed, Highlanders created more opportunities to take the lead. In the 25th minute, Kwando Frimpong had a golden opportunity to score but his header hit the woodwork after connecting Banele ‘Pupu’ Sikhondze’s well-timed cross. On the other hand, ‘Stingers’, as United are nicknamed, came close to scoring at the stroke of the first half-hour mark. Vusi Mavuso had a chance to put his team in the lead but his shot went off the target.

Despite Highlanders persistently launching dangerous attacks, United managed to maintain their composure, resulting in a suspenseful and goalless first half. From the break, United were the first to successfully hatch their plans. A familiar ghost in former ‘Bull’ star ‘Smoothies’ haunted them with a screamer just four minutes before the hour mark.  While advancing into the box, he spotted goalkeeper Khanyakwezwe Shabalala off the line and unleashed a long range volley that rested behind him to silence the capital city’s roaring fans.

rested

Highlanders never thrown in the towel and Frimpong made a goal attempt in vain just in the 70th minute before he was rested. At the peak of ‘Bull’s attack and when United seemed to have got a sweet revenge, they suffered a setback. They were reduced to 10-men with five minutes left in the clock when defender Helnock Mukaka picked his second yellow card for fouling Moloto. Siyabonga Magagula who then saw his clean  sheet stained three minutes later made a heroic save just in Referee Thulani Sibandze’s optional time. He tipped off ‘Pupu’s short destined for the net. However, Thami Zulu brought fans back to their seats as they were leaving with a minute left in the referee’s five minutes additional time. He stood tall and nodded in Moloto’s cross, which attracted wild celebrations from their fans, as it saved as a premonition for a hard-earned win on the day.

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