Ricky Zililo Senior Sports Reporter
IT was a weekend of draws in the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League with five out of eight encounters ending in stalemates.
There were no positional changes at the apex of the table as all the three top three teams – Highlanders, ZPC Kariba who took their unbeaten run to 17 matches, and Dynamos played to goalless draws against How Mine, Hwange and Black Rhinos respectively.
Fourth placed Caps United managed to close in on the leading trio at the expense of Chicken Inn who they beat 1-0. The Green Machine are now on 30 points, two behind leaders Highlanders and one point adrift of ZPC Kariba and Dynamos.
The weekend results for the championship favourites set a pulsating week for local football as clubs will be involved in two matches inside four days with Week 18 kicking off tomorrow.
Log leaders Highlanders, who managed to collect four points from How Mine this season, could have gone away with maximum points had they been sharp in front of goal as they fluffed clear-cut chances in the first half which fell to Mthulisi Maphosa and Charles Sibanda.
The first scoring chance came three minutes into the game but veteran midfielder Maphosa shot straight into the hands of the miners’ goalkeeper Ephraim Mazarura before shooting to the terraces as the game progressed, while Sibanda could not put three shots beyond the reach of the imposing frame of Mazarura.
Bosso coach Kelvin Kaindu threw into the fray returning chief striker Njabulo Ncube but there was little that Tshiki did to unnerve How Mine’s defence save for a through pass to Maphosa in the third minute and another cheeky pass to Charles Sibanda which earned him applause from the Highlanders supporters, something he clearly missed at FC Platinum.
Expectations are high for the nomadic Ncube to deliver for Bosso and he will be expected to continue partnering roving striker Sibanda who has 10 goals to his account.
It remains to be seen whether Ncube will be able to complement his lack of pace with ability to lay balls for his rather not so quick teammates who take time to get into the box.
Many at times on Sunday, Highlanders had few players getting into the box save for the opening quarter and the last five minutes where they literally camped in How Mine’s half but failed to turn that dominance into goals. Another mid-season signing that came in for Highlanders was Pasca Manhanga whose presence made no difference even though he received a good welcome from the fans as he replaced Knox Mutizwa in the 56th minute.
He was made to play on the wing though previously he has shone from deep inside.
Even though they failed to complete a double over their city rivals, Highlanders had an improved performance compared to their first leg showing as well as the back-to-back encounters with Bantu Rovers.
“I think today, in a long time our play was more fluid and it’s just unfortunate that we did not score,” said Kaindu in his post match interview.
How Mine did not create any meaningful chances as their players were caught off side a number of times as they tried to break, leaving the Highlanders’ number one Ariel Sibanda more of a spectator.
Playing with a makeshift anchorman in Gilbert Banda, How Mine made it hard for Bosso to cut through the middle with Brighton Dube and James Chitereki doing well to shut Highlanders from attacking via the wings.
For Philani “Beefy” Ncube, the How Mine coach, Sunday’s result was a positive one after recording four consecutive defeats.
“A draw against Highlanders is better even though we had planned for a win. This result is what we needed as we work towards re-discovering our rhythm. I guess from here what we have to do is to try and avoid conceding and work on finishing the few scoring chances that we create,” said Ncube.
Hwange kept their title flame glowing as they held ZPC Kariba to a goalless draw in Harare, leaving the miners five points behind Bosso.
Pressure is mounting on Chicken Inn’s head coach Joey Antipas who registered his fourth consecutive defeat when his side went down 0-1 to Caps United.
Another Bulawayo club that is feeling the heat is Bantu Rovers who were beaten 3-2 by Triangle at Gibbo.
As the midweek games kick off tomorrow, the Zambian expatriate Kaindu has to get his charges ready for tomorrow’s away game against Black Rhinos in Rimuka, Kadoma.
The army side is under the tutelage of Jostein Mathuthu who joined them at the start of the second half of the season guiding Black Rhinos to a 1-0 win over How Mine and holding defending champions Dynamos to a goalless draw at Rimuka.
Highlanders must be cautious of Black Rhinos whose game plan has been absorbing pressure from their opponents and hitting them on counter attacks. This means that should Highlanders create any scoring chances, they have to convert them to avoid disappointment.
At this stage, the Bulawayo giants cannot afford any slip up as a loss or draw may see them surrender the top spot to ZPC Kariba or Dynamos in the event that they win their respective games.
ZPC Kariba tomorrow are away to log anchors Chiredzi while Dynamos will be at home to wounded Chicken Inn at Gwanzura.
A double header is on the cards at Luveve Stadium where Bantu Rovers will battle it out with FC Platinum at 1PM followed by the How Mine-Triangle tie.
After their goalless draw at home to Chapungu on Saturday, FC Platinum’s coach Lloyd Mutasa reportedly had a torrid time trying to get out of Mandava Stadium as fans were baying for his blood for a string of poor results.
In the only Thursday fixture Caps United travel to Hwange for a date with Chipangano.
Tomorrow’s encounter against lowly placed Bantu Rovers is a tricky one for Mutasa and his charges as Methembe Ndlovu and his boys will also be out for maximum points as they continue their survival fight.
Castle Lager Premier Soccer League results
Friday: Harare City 2-1 Chiredzi
Saturday: ZPC Kariba 0-0 Hwange, FC Platinum 0-0 Chapungu
Sunday: Highlanders 0-0 How Mine, Buffaloes 2-2 Shabanie Mine, Caps United 1-0 Chicken Inn, Black Rhinos 0-0 Dynamos, Triangle 3-2 Bantu Rovers
Fixtures Week 18
Tomorrow: Dynamos v Chicken Inn (Gwanzura), Chapungu v Buffaloes (Ascot), Bantu Rovers v FC Platinum (Luveve, 1PM), How Mine v Triangle United (Luveve, 3PM), Chiredzi v ZPC Kariba (Chishamiso), Shabanie Mine v Harare City (Maglas), Black Rhinos v Highlanders (Rimuka)
Thursday: Hwange v Caps United (Colliery)
Saturday, August 9: Highlanders v Dynamos (Barbourfields, 3PM SuperSport), Buffaloes v Bantu Rovers (Sakubva), Harare City v Chapungu (Rufaro), Triangle United v Black Rhinos (Gibbo), ZPC Kariba v Shabanie Mine (Gwanzura)
Sunday, August 10: FC Platinum v How Mine (Mandava), Caps United v Chiredzi (Rufaro), Chicken Inn v Hwange (Luveve, 3PM SuperSport)