Rangers to the fore
Tembisa : After a rather dicey performance in the return Rothmans Cup fixture against Mother City at the Athlone Stadium a week ago, that led to the Maulers eventually clawing their way into the quarter-finals by virtue of winning a penalty shootout - the critics knives were out for coach Gordon Igesund to produce a surefire result against Premier League rookies Classic at their homebase.
Indeed, if ever the Maulers had to stand up and be counted this was the time as they ran onto the pitch full of fire and confidence. Zeus himself would've been proud. Coach Igesund himself retrospected before the kick-off that " its not so much a question as the players going off the boil - its more a matter of them regaining their confidence. The touches, the passes, everything is there for one to see ... just finding the net seems to be a problem, but that in itself is just a matter of their confidence returning. "
Never a truer word was spoken. With a starting line-up that included the former Rangers Colts player Regan Stuart making his first appearance on the starting sheet the Maulers surged forward at every opportunity, with the young Stuart making impressive darts through the Classic defense. Understandably nervous, he more than made up for shaky knees would tireless work alongside the Zimbabwean national Gilbert Mushaghazike.
However, even with striker-convert Bruce Ramokadi revelling in his new mid-field role, Rangers struggled to make that incisive breakthrough as the Classic defensive held firm time and again against repeated onslaughts from Kerryn Jordan and Mushanghazike. Jordan himself had a golden opportunity late in the first half latching onto an overhead ball but in the process of trying to control the ball and maintain possession in the in goal area lost his footing and the chance went abegging.
Half-time saw the scores still tied at 0 - 0
Igesund clearly on the cross-roads, replaced Liswa Nduti, who was lagging behind after taking a bad knock in the 1st half with another foreign international, Antonio Trigo who proved to be an inspired replacement, immediately making his mark on the game by starting on the right side of midfield and troubling his Classic counterparts to no end.
With Classic over-compensating for defense on the right to counter Trigo, Igesund made another inspired substitution by bringing on Japhet Zwane, the former Pheonix City player, on for Regan Stuart, a move which clearly paid dividends as Zwane weaved his magic down the left and putting in some telling crosses to complement Trigos advances down the right.
It was Zwanes left footed cross in the 60th minute that found Mushanghazikes head in the 6 yard box which he duly buried with aplomb. The nifty Zimbabwean could have made it a brace in the 65th minute if his reflex swivel volley from a Trigo cross had not found the keepers body, who clearly did'nt have a clue where the ball was going. With Rangers surging forward now at every opportunity, Classic almost broke through on the counter but Mark Joubert fluffing a simple chance as he was quickly closed down by Bradley Muir and Sipho Ndzuzo.
Ramokadi threatened the whole game with his devious left foot, and eventually got his reward in the 80th minute after dribbling his way into the box and lashing powerfully at the Classic keeper who could only pluck at fresh air as the ball rifled into his left hand upright.
The plus points of this game, understandably against lesser opposition was the performance of the players coming back from injury and suspension. Helder Muianga and Bradley Muir played with remarkable confidence and Muianga was more than able in his sweeping role. Ndzuzo continues to feature regularly with solid performances and Muir, showed no traces of the ankle injury that kept him out for the early part of the season with his aerial superiority.
If this game was anything to go by, then the Maulers faithful are in for a very entertaining season ahead.