SuperSport United lift PSL title again
13 May 2009
The final weekend of South Africa's 2008/09 Premier Soccer League season brought with it plenty of intrigue. The league champion had not yet been decided, nor had the identity of the team that would be involved in promotion/relegation ties against clubs from the National First Division.
At the top end of the table, defending champions SuperSport United went into their away clash against Santos with a two-point lead over Orlando Pirates, who had a home fixture against Amazulu.
Bay United had already been relegated before the final round of matches, which involved all 16 teams, but any one of Thanda Royal Zulu, Bloemfontein Celtic, Platinum Stars or Maritzburg United would have to play in the promotion/relegation playoffs, depending on the results of the matches.
The previous season the title was decided on the last day, with SuperSport lifting the trophy despite losing to Bloemfontein Celtic as Ajax Cape Town drew 2-2 with Golden Arrows when they needed a win.
This time around, Pirates needed nothing less than victory to have a chance of lifting the silverware. SuperSport, meanwhile, knew a draw against Santos would be enough to clinch back-to-back titles.
To prepare for the possibility of one of two clubs winning the title on the final day, the PSL trophy was taken to the match between SuperSport and Santos, while a replica was taken to the game between Orlando Pirates and Amazulu. With SuperSport two points ahead in the standings heading into the last matches, they were favoured with the real silverware.
Rose to the challenge
Pirates rose to the challenge, doing all they could by beating Amazulu 3-1 at a rocking Coca-Cola Park in Johannesburg.
Thulasizwe Mbuyane put the Buccaneers into an early lead, and after only 24 minutes it was 2-0 as Katlego Mashego took advantage of a poor clearance to double the Sea Robbers' advantage.
Rudi Krol's charges had little time to celebrate, however, as Bradley Ritson, reduced the deficit to one goal only a minute later when he headed past Moneeb Josephs in the Pirates' goal.
Five minutes before the break Mbuyane grabbed his brace and restored his team's two-goal lead. It was enough to take Pirates to a convincing victory.
SuperSport vs Santos
Meanwhile, in Stellenbosch, SuperSport United and Santos engaged in a battle that was controlled by the defences, although the defending champions - known as "Matsatsantsa" - dominated possession and therefore dictated much of the play.
As time ticked by, however, there were signs that the SuperSport players were feeling a little nervous. They kept their structure and discipline, however, as both teams' defenders stood firm and finally, after three minutes of added time, the final whistle sounded.
At last the Pretoria side was able to celebrate a league title by pulling on shirts proclaiming "Back-to-Back", in reference to their second league crown in succession.
Both SuperSport and Pirates finished with 55 points from their 30 games, but United's goal difference was six goals better than that of the Buccaneers.
SuperSport coach Gavin Hunt admitted afterwards that he felt relief more than anything else after his charges claimed the title; they had squandered an eight-point lead in the lead-up to the final round of matches.
Hunt attributed his side's surrendered lead to SuperSport's disappointing early exit from the African Champions League, which left them with a lot of time between games. The big breaks between matches meant they lost their cutting edge due to a lack of games.
The other end of the table
At the other end of the table, a battle for survival took place.
Bay United, the only team which had already been relegated, lost 1-0 at home to Golden Arrows. The visitors' winner was scored by Richard Henyekane, who finished as the PSL's top scorer with 19 goals to his name. He scored over 43 percent of his side's 44 goals, which was bettered only by the 45 of SuperSport United.
Bloemfontein Celtic, one of the teams in danger of having to contest the promotion/relegation match, meanwhile, had a shocker against Free State Stars. They came out on the wrong end of a hiding, going down 5-1.
Luck, however, was on their side as Maritzburg United and Thanda Royal Zulu, who were both among the relegation-threatened sides, played to a goalless draw.
That result left Thanda Royal Zulu and Bloemfontein Celtic on the same number of points. Celtic, despite their humiliating loss to Free State Stars, enjoyed by far the better goal difference than Thanda, leaving the team from KwaZulu-Natal needing to go into the playoffs to secure their place in next season's PSL.
Platinum Stars went down by two goals to nil against Kaizer Chiefs, but they had done enough previously to stay just two points above Thanda Royal Zulu and Bloemfontein Celtic.
Bidvest Wits beat Moroka Swallows 2-0 in a middle of the table clash.
In the last of the weekend's games, Mamelodi Sundowns, the richest team in the league, went down 2-0 at home to Ajax Cape Town. That defeat left the Brazilians in ninth position, thus missing out on a place in the lucrative MTN Eight.
There have been signs this past season that the club's billionaire owner Patrice Motsepe has grown frustrated with the team's lacklustre performances and big changes are likely in the off-season.
(Played, won, drawn, lost, goals for, goals against, goal difference, points)
LEADING GOAL SCORERS
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