Ricky Zililo Senior Sports Reporter
HIGHLANDERS’ championship script over the last three seasons has been that of a child who has a good handwriting but gets wrong answers.
After losing 1-0 to arch-rivals Dynamos at Barbourfields Stadium in their Week 19 encounter on Saturday, the Bulawayo giants were dislodged from the top of the table where they have been sitting since Week 13, to position four.
Highlanders were last placed fourth on the table after Week 12 when they were beaten 1-0 by Dynamos at the National Sports Stadium.
After that, Bosso returned to the top but this time around it remains to be seen whether they will be able to pick themselves up and get their championship hopes back on track.
Having last beaten Dynamos in a league match in 2006, Highlanders were left asking themselves what they have to do to get it right against their old nemesis.
On Saturday Highlanders as has been the case before, played brilliantly in the first half and were all over Dynamos but they could not bury the Harare giants.
Like true champions, DeMbare managed to withstand pressure and restricted Highlanders’ dominance to just three clear-cut scoring opportunities which fell to Njabulo Ncube in the first minute and Charles Sibanda later in the game. Ncube shot with his weaker foot straight into the hands of DeMbare’s goalie Artwell Mukandi before Sibanda sent his efforts to the terraces with only the goalkeeper to beat.
In response, Dynamos coach Callisto Pasuwa took out Fabrice Mbimba for club captain Murape Murape and that move resurrected DeMbare even though Bosso managed to hold on.
Realising that Highlanders were stronger than them in the midfield, Pasuwa instructed his players to bypass the midfield, tossing the ball between Bosso’s central defenders Innocent Mapuranga and Dumisani “Fazo” Ndlovu.
However, it is Mapuranga who looked edgy.
Mapuranga and left back Bruce Kangwa were guilty of the goal that Dynamos scored through Mutuma as the former was badly positioned before being left for dead by Simba Sithole, playing as a winger, who sent in a cross to the box that fell to Kangwa.
Instead of clearing the ball at once, Kangwa tried to control only to lay it for on-rushing Mutuma who poked it into the empty net a few minutes into the second half.
After that, DeMbare just like they were doing in the first half were always behind the ball. Highlanders coach Kelvin Kaindu brought in Mthulisi Maphosa, Welcome Ndiweni and Kudzi Machazane for Hillary Madzivanyika, Pasca Manhanga and Njabulo Ncube but could not crack DeMbare’s back.
Even after the defeat, Kaindu wore a brave face admitting that “sometime results are not fair” with reference to his team’s dominance but failing to get the goals.
With 11 more matches left before the end of the season, the Zambian expatriate still believes they are in the title race even though they are three points behind leaders ZPC Kariba who are on 35 points.
“We created a number of chances but failed to score. What I want to assure our supporters is that we will fight to the bitter end. The race is still on,” Kaindu said.
Pasuwa is aware that beating Highlanders does not guarantee them the title as they still have 11 more matches to play.
“I can’t talk of the championship at this stage because winning the league title is not about beating Highlanders only . . . it is about winning against ZPC Kariba, Rhinos and all those other teams. However, the victory boosts our morale in terms of what we want to achieve at the end of the season,” Pasuwa told our sister paper The Sunday Mail.
ZPC Kariba shot to the top of the table with a superior goal difference as they are tied on 35 points with Dynamos.
The electricity generators burnt Shabanie Mine 3-0 to take their unbeaten run tally to 19 this season and possibly set themselves for a stronger finish as the league approaches its last third.
In the relegation battle Chicken Inn were the biggest movers as they completed a double over Hwange who they beat 1-0 moving from fourth from the bottom to position eight.
Bantu Rovers and Chiredzi sunk deeper into the murky relegation waters following their 1-2 and 0-3 defeats to Buffaloes and Caps United respetively.