Popa pinch a point

George Moore
Late drama at the Itekeng as Orapa/Rollers draw

Late drama at the Itekeng as Orapa/Rollers draw

Orapa United came within seconds of extending their winning run to seven games against Township Rollers on Saturday, denied by a last-gasp equalizer from the unlikeliest of sources: central defender, Mosha Gaolaolwe’s right boot.

In the end, a draw was probably a fair result after a grueling encounter under the Boteti sun, in which the action ebbed and flowed and both teams enjoyed periods of dominance.

In keeping with the teams’ pre-match form, it was the Ostriches who started the stronger, bossing the early skirmishes as the crowds continued to swarm to the Itekeng, hundreds arriving after the 4pm kick-off.

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Those that did turn up in time would have seen Omaatla ‘Dunga’ Kebatho’s 15th minute strike thunder into the bar as Orapa laid siege to the visitor’s goal in a frantic attack, Rollers’ captain, Simisani Mathumo flinging himself at the rebound to prevent the follow-up going in.

Kebatho, the league’s leading scorer, had an even better chance to break the deadlock 10 minutes later, when he was adjudged to have been tripped in the box.

If decision seemed soft, Kebatho’s penalty was even softer, the strapping 29-year-old striker scuffing his spot-kick against the post.

Galvanized, Popa finished the half in a menacing mood, the evergreen Mogakolodi Ngele, 32, dropping slightly deeper into midfield, where he was able to exert his influence.

Continuing this momentum in the second 45, Rollers grew in confidence, moving the ball well and probing patiently.

The Blues’ impetus was helped by some sloppy Orapa play, the Ostriches repeatedly giving away possession, much to the dismay of Coach, Tawurai Mangwiro on the sideline.

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Mapalastina should have opened the scoring in the 65th minute, when Edwin Moalosi was played clean through on goal.

One-on-one with goalkeeper, Lesenya Malapela, the midfielder unselfishly tried to square the ball to the on-rushing debutant, Mbatshi Elias, complicating matters when he really should have shot himself. Unable to take the under-hit pass in his stride, the ball dribbled away from Elias, the former Ostrich’s big moment gone in a flash.

Orapa’s response was devastating.

Making amends for his earlier misses, Kebatho struck in the 80th minute.

Pouncing on a bobbling ball in the area, he smashed a fierce first-time shot on the turn, beating the unsighted, Kabelo Maphakela at his near post.

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It was a predatory finish from a man in the form of his life, taking his tally for the season to 14, three more than anyone else.

The goal rocked Rollers, who at that point looked a beaten side.

However, roared on by the Popa faithful, they found a second wind in the heat, Coach Sergio Traguil, introducing new signing, Siyanda Ngubo, in the 87th minute.

The South African forward had an instant impact, claiming the assist for Gaolaolwe’s goal.

In truth though, most of the credit must go to the Zebras defender, who showed a striker’s instinct to smash a swerving shot from distance past Malapela, the Orapa gloveman getting a hand to the ball but unable to keep it out.

With Gaborone United held to a draw by Eleven Angels, it means the Ostriches remain just three points off top spot as the first round of fixtures comes to an end. Mangwiro’s men host BDF XI this week before a potentially seismic clash with GU followed by a return meeting with Popa.

For fourth-placed Rollers, the gap to the top is nine points – tough but not insurmountable for Traguil’s troops. Next up for the Blue machine is bottom club, Holy Ghost, fresh from their first win of the season only for their Coach, Botshelo Pelokgosi to join Jwaneng Galaxy’s ladies team the very next day!

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“I see this as a point gained. We were far from our best, especially in the second half, where we seemed to panic at the back and gave the ball away too often. They scored late but I’m still happy with the point.”

Popa pinch a point

“That was much more like it. We’re finally starting to play the football I want. Once the new signings settle in, I’m confident the wins will come. It would have been a travesty to lose this match, we played well.”

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Popa pinch a point

(Kebatho, 80) (Gaolaolwe, 90)

10 SHOTS 7
17 FOULS 11
0 2 CARDS 0 2

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