Africa-Press – Malawi. Nyasa Big have finally been beaten in the TNM Super League-losing 1-0 away to Mafco FC at Dedza Stadium on Sunday afternoon, the first defeat for Kalisto Pasuwa’s side in nearly 37 matches across all the domestic competitions since September last year.
Pasuwa’s runaway leaders had not lost in their previous 25 League games this season, one of the most remarkable longest unbeaten run in Malawian football. But they were beaten despite a nerve-racking finale in which they almost completed a remarkable comeback towards the end of the match. What happened?
From the onset, the hosts had mastered the art of playing on a such dry and bumpy pitch and their game plan worked as they used Bernard Chimaimba and Mphatso Phillimon to attack from the wings and this restricted Bullets from attacking from their usual wing backs who were now forced to drop back for fear of being caught on counter attacks through Mafco’s pacey wingers.
Not a star anyone had expected, but at least Bullets defenders were able to contain the pressure exerted by Stereo Gondwe’s side as twice, they threatened Richard Chimbamba’s goal only for the goalkeeper to rise to the occasion in the 6th and 9th minute to keep Bullets into the game.
At the other end of the field, Babatunde Adepoju made his first run to Mafco’s goal area but Paul Ndhlovu, who was very solid at the back, smartly won the ball and allowed fellow defenders to regroup.
Bullets had another goal scoring opportunity in the 19th minute when Babatunde got the better of Stain Malata before delivering a dangerous ball into the box which found Anthony Mfune unmarked and the forward did everything right before being denied by the post when Blessings Kameza was already beaten in the line of duty.
Thirty-six minutes into the match, David Daudi, Bullets former Reserve player, had his ambitious effort well saved by Chimbamba after Bullets’ defense was caught off-guard. Mafco kept on knocking for a goal and finally got their wish in the 40th minute through Sichinga.
Chimwemwe Idana’s back pass meant for Chimbamba was accidentally intercepted by Kesten Simbi who lost the ball to Chimaimba and the winger made a descent run before sending a low cross pass into the box which was missed by all the three Bullets defenders and the ball landed straight at Sichinga who calmly controlled the ball, made a turn before releasing a powerful drive which was just too much for Chimbamba to stop, 1-0.
It proved an important moment for the visitors with Sichinga, Phillimon and Auspicious Kadzongola getting the better of Bullets’ midfield which was struggling to settle down and the hosts went to the recess with their one goal advantage.
After the break, Bullets had similar problems encountered in the opening half, failing to play a passing game and all their attacking players were neatly closed down by the hosts.
For the next five minutes, Chimaimba, Daudi, Sichinga and Kadzongola passed the ball at will with Bullets players failing to close them down as the ball was switched to their wingers who could now advance into the attacking zone, they lacked the finishing composure to double their lead.
Pasuwa then introduced Stanley Billiat for Selemani to try to improve his attacking prowess as there was no space for Bullets in the midfield to penetrate and force Mafco to open up.
The match was now more physical, with the referee twice intervening as the players from both teams involved themselves in war of words and Babatunde was cautioned in the process.
With one hour-mark gone, Gondwe brought in Richard Mbulu for Phillimon and the striker nearly doubled his side’s lead but he was found in the wrong place as he was flagged for offside.
The Central link was also a headache to Bullets as there was no transition going forward and this forced Pasuwa to replace Idana with Alick Lungu, a decision which saw Bullets making some moves into the attacking zones but Ndhlovu was too strong at the back with critical interceptions.
For the better part of the minutes between 75 to 69 minutes, Bullets pressed in desperate bid for an equalizer but every move ended either in the hands of Kameza or Ndhlovu who kept all Bullets attackers at bay.
Bullets had another opportunity in the 71 minutes when Ernest Petro was brought down closer to the penalty box and Simbi stepped up only to see his effort well saved by Kameza for a corner kick which they easily defended.
At the other end, Tony Mbulu, who came in for Sichinga, made an excellent run to the far right before delivering an excellent cross into the box which almost found his elder brother but Simbi arrived on time to make a timely clearance for a corner which also caused some nervous defending from the part of Bullets.
On 77th minute, Hassan Kajoke replaced Mfune to try to reinforce the visitors’ attacking options in desperate need for the much needed equalizer. The People’s Team immediately sensed an opportunity when all seemed lost, though time was running out for them.
And that opportunity came in the 85th minute when Billiat’s pass found Petro on the edge of the box who wasted no time by finding the advanced Babatunde but the striker fired over the crossbar when Kameza was already beaten in his goalkeeping area.
This missed opportunity was a sign that may be it wasn’t Bullets’ day and the writing was on the wall because in the additional minutes, Babatunde had another opportunity but he was blocked by Ndhlovu and referee Alfred Chilinda blew his whistle to mark the end of the match.
What does this defeat mean? The People’s Team are still in control of the title race because they just need five points from the remaining four games as they will reach a 66-point mark, a point above Blue Eagles 65-point mark which is their maximum points from the three remaining games.
Pasuwa’s side has 61 points, five ahead of Eagles who have played a game more than the log leaders. Bullets remain with Dedza Dynamos, Moyale Barracks and Karonga United at home whilst Tigers will be played away from home.
In other match, Silver Strikers’ perfect run continued with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over third placed Kamuzu Barracks at Kasungu Stadium to keep their slight hopes of making it into the top four alive.
Chawanangwa Kaonga and Stain Davie scored in each half whilst Zeliat Nkhoma pulled one back for the Capital City Soldiers who remains third with 51 points from 27 games. As for the Central Bankers, their hopes of making it into the top four are very slim as they are still fifth with 48 points from 29 games.