Ricky Zililo in BULAWAYO
Tsholotsho FC. . . . . . . . . . . .0
Highlanders . . . . . . . . . . . . 1HIGHLANDERS FC edged an impressive Tsholotsho FC with new signing Teenage Hadebe scoring a long-range dipping shot before a good crowd at Barbourfields yesterday.
It was a perfect day for football lovers in this opening match and not even the presence of about 10 000 fans, who attended the game and the heavy downpour just before kick-off, could push Tsholotsho FC into a shell.
As expected, the Zhwane Boys, who survived an avalanche of attacks, took the game to Bosso, winning the admiration of even Highlanders’ supporters for their patient and yet beautiful passing game.
They dominated ball possession for the better part of the first stanza with their midfield quartet of Butholezwe Ncube, Gerald Takwara, Ocient Ncube and Simbarashe Gorogodyo in control of proceedings.
Tsholotsho FC had a disciplined defence line, twice effectively applying their offside trap in the first seven minutes, to deny Highlanders an early lead.
Because of their ability to compress Bosso in midfield, Tsholotsho FC managed to frustrate their opponents forcing them to play long balls in an effort to by-pass the midfield.
Highlanders’ long ball finally cracked the Tsholotsho rearguard in the 24th minute when Bruce Kangwa sent a pass to striker Thomas Chideu who had a miscue in the box.
However, that weak shot beat Tsholotsho FC goalkeeper Chang Mariyoni with the ball falling onto the path of striker Obiadiah Tarumbwa who, with the goal yawning at his mercy a metre away, surprisingly scooped the ball over the bar.
The towering Bosso defender was on the left side of his half, maybe a metre from the centre line, when he caught Mariyoni off guard with a dipping shot.
How he scored, or what his intentions were, never bothered the fans and the Highlanders family as they celebrated the break they desperately needed.
That goal seemed to further unsettle their opponents but to their credit, Tsholotsho FC maintained their shape and kept trying to force a breakthrough.
Though Tsholotsho FC were in control of the game, it was Highlanders who created another chance a minute before the break when Chideu threaded a pass to Gabriel Nyoni only for him to shoot wide with only Mariyoni to beat.
Three minutes into the second half, Tsholotsho FC left-back Nkosilathi Moyo also tried to be adventurous, attempting a Hadebe wonder strike.
Tsholotsho pushed their men forward and in the 65th minute, striker Kudzanai Machazane was booked for simulation as he tried to trick the referee into giving him a penalty by diving.
Five minutes later, Simbarashe Gorogodyo — scorer of Tsholotsho FC’s goal against Harare City — weaved his way past a number of Highlanders players, got into the box and pulled the trigger but Felix Chindungwe blocked the shot.
In the 73rd minute the crossbar saved Bosso ‘keeper Ariel Sibanda some blushes as Ocient’s corner kick hit the post.
Highlanders recovered from the scary moments, launched a number of attacks but their finishing let them down.
Bosso were even lucky to finish the game with 11 players following an off-the-ball incident where their left-back Honest Moyo punched Gorogodyo but neither the referee nor his assistant saw the incident.
Highlanders could have added two goals in the 89th minute and in injury time with the first chance falling to Bruce Kangwa, when he got to a rebound off a Douglas Sibanda lawnmower but he failed to beat Mariyoni.
An unmarked Nqobizitha Masuku also sent his effort to the terraces while in the box. Highlanders’ coach Bongani Mafu was happy with the three points but bemoaned the lack of potency in front of goal. “This was a hard fought victory for us. The opposition had good build-ups in the midfield which never troubled us at all.
“However, there is a need to go back and work on our finishing because we created lots of chances and should have buried the game in the first half but we failed,” said Mafu.