BANTU striker Lazola Tjokotjokwana’s lone goal against arch rivals Lioli at Setsoto Stadium yesterday was enough to hand the defending Econet Premier League champions the much-needed three points to catapult them to the top of the log for the first time this season.
A Matšo Matebele went into yesterday’s match seating second on the table, two points behind Matlama and the win saw them leapfrog the Sea Point outfit to the pole position with one point advantage.
Bantu are now on top with 57 points while Matlama dropped to second with 56 points although Tse Putsoa still have a chance to reclaim their top spot if they beat Sefotha-fotha today.
Bantu enjoyed more possession from the onset with most of the action inside the Lioli half but it was Tse Nala who launched the first attack, 12 minutes into the match from Montoeli Sonopo’s set piece. However, it was saved by goalkeeper Thabiso Lichaba.
There were a few chances created by both sides as Lioli sat deep in their own half to deny Bantu any space behind their defence line.
The second dangerous attack of the match came on the half hour mark from another set piece but this time around it was in Bantu’s favour.
Lindokuhle Phungulwa unleashed a screamer just outside the penalty area but he was unfortunate to see his shot hit the cross bar.
James Madidilane made his first substitute in the first half pulling out the struggling Lehlohonolo Mothetsi for Neo Mokhachane on the 34th minute.
Bantu suffered a blow three minutes before the break as their hard tackling midfielder Phungulwa had to be substituted due to an injury and on his behalf came Hlompho Kalake.
Tjokotjokwana punished Lioli from Tšoanelo Koetle’s mistake just outside their penalty area just before the break.
Koetle failed to clear promptly and Tjokotjokwana intercepted the ball and made no mistake placing it far from the keeper.
Bantu started from where they left off in the second stanza and came close to scoring a minute later.
Lioli goalkeeper Jessy Matsie produced a heroic save from a Marabe corner to keep his side in the match.
However, the rhythm of the match changed as Lioli took control of the matters as Bantu sat deep in their own half defending their goal.
The match then became more physical.
In a bid to keep Lioli at bay, Madidilane introduced Mokone Marabe for Tsietsi Motšeare on the 55th minute.
Tjokotjokwana could have extended his tally on the 65th minute when Bantu caught Lioli on a counter but his shot narrowly missed the target few paces outside the box.
A minute later, Lioli made their first and only substitute introducing Mokoena Monese for Lekhanya Lekhanya.
The change didn’t bring much difference to the match, which had become riddled with fouls.
Bantu once again came close to scoring and this time it was Kalake with a volley inside the penalty area but his shot was deflected by Lioli defender Kopano Tseka for a corner on 83 minutes.
Madidilane said he was happy with how his side played.
“Coming into this match, we assessed our previous matches and I give credit to the players who stuck to the plan because we knew how Lioli was going to come,” Madidilane said.
“Ours was just to ensure that we neutralise their striker Sweartbirth Kum and we did it.”
He downplayed their increasing chances of winning the league saying their focus now is on finishing the season with 60 points and end it on a high note.
“We are at the top and it is alright but our chances of winning lie on Matlama losing, so for now, it’s all about the pride. We are not looking at Matlama or any other team. We just want to finish with 60 points,” Madidilane said.
Commenting on his charges dropping back in the second half, Madidilane said they were forced to drop due to Phungulwa’s injury while Tjokotjokwana was also limping.
For his part, Lioli coach Lehlohonolo Thotanyana admitted that Bantu took advantage of his charges’ mistake.
“I am happy with how we played although at times, we did not add enough numbers in front to attack. Bantu were motivated to take the three points but we also tried to fight. However, sometimes in football you are punished for your mistakes.
“We were fighting for the fourth spot but unfortunately, it didn’t happen,” Thotanyana said.
Elsewhere relegation threatened Swallows boosted their chances of surviving beating Liphakoe 2-1 in Quthing. LDF cemented their place in the top four coming from a goal down to beat Kick4Life 3-2 at Ratjomose Ground.
The match between LMPS and Majantja ended in a one-all draw at PTC Ground.