Extension Gunners moved up to fifth in the league, keeping their title hopes alive with a hard-fought 1-0 win against Nico United in Selebi-Phikwe on Saturday.
In a game of few chances, in which the heavy pitch’s long, energy-sapping grass served to nullify both teams attacking intent, a 47th minute wonder goal from Mapantsula left-back Otlantshekela Mooketsi proved the difference between the two evenly-matched sides.
Although the result was harsh on Nico, who dominated the first-half and missed a penalty just before half-time – their third miss from the spot in as many matches-Mooketsi’s stunning strike was worthy of settling any game.
The Lobatse side’s defining moment came justafter the restart, when they were awarded a free-kick midway inside their opponent’s half.
From fully 30-yards out and slightly to the right of goal, there seemed little danger of Nico conceding – however, that was without reckoning on the brilliant Mooketsi’s goal of the season contender.
Following a long, purposeful run-up, the left-footed defender unleashed an unstoppable rocket of a shot, with just enough elevation to clear the four-man wall.
Swerving viciously, the ball seemed to gather momentum as it flew unerringly into the top left-hand corner of the goal, beating Karabo Gaolebale’s valiant diving effort.
The Majombolo keeper got a faint touch to the ball but was unable to divert it away from his net – indeed he was lucky not to lose one of his fingers considering the venomous power behind the shot.
It was a moment of magic to settle an otherwise mundane encounter, with much of the game bogged down in midfield.
The home-side were left to rue a missed penalty in the dying minutes of the first-half, after Gunners’ centre-back Andrew Makopo was harshly adjudged to have handled in the area.
Whether the penalty should have been awarded or not proved irrelevant however, as Nico’s giant Zimbabwean striker, Godknows Mutina failed to hit the target with his wayward spot-kick – missing the goal by an embarrassingly wide margin.
Incredibly, it was Nico’s third missed penalty in their last three games, having failed to convert from 12 yards against Mochudi Centre Chiefs and Miscellaneous.
The Phikwe side were unlucky not to win another penalty minutes later when impressive new signing Gofaone Moreba – one of 5 recently recruited players named in Nico’s starting line-up – appeared to be hacked down in the box. However, the referee deemed it to be a dive and Moreba was yellow-carded for simulation – a decision that was greeted with howls of fury from the disbelieving home fans.
Although Nico had most of the second-half to try and force an equaliser, despite much endeavour and with their dreadlocked midfielder Mpoeleng Mpoeleng the game’s standout player, they were unable to test the lanky frame of Kelame Tladinyane in the Gunners goal.
Indeed, it was Mapantsula who came closest to scoring again, when, in the 75th minute, new signing KenanaoKgetholetsile was denied by a sensational save from Gaolebale.
Kgetholetsile’s deflected shot looped over Gaolebale and seemed destined for the net, only for Nico’s agile keeper to twist around, dive full stretch and somehow claw the ball away to safety.
The defeat means Nico have now lost four in a row and slip into the bottom three following Sankoyo Bush Bucks 2-1 win over Black Forest.
Speaking to Voice Sport after the game, Majombolo mentor Dean Mwinde cut a desolate figure, expressing disappointment at his side’s failure to capitalise on a dominant first-half performance.
The head coach was adamant his team should have had a second penalty, saying, “There is no doubt he (Moreba) was touched– he was not faking!”
In stark contrast, Mwinde’s opposite number, Daniel Nare was all smiles as he celebrated what was only Gunners second win in their last eight league outings.
“I’m delighted with the three points. We weren’t at our best today – we were disorganised in the first-half and got lucky with the missed pen. However, I thought we improved in the second period and could have gone on to score a couple more goals,” was Nare’s assessment of the game.