By Sports Focus Reporter
Bloemfontein Celtic completed a first Absa Premiership ‘double’ over regional rivals Free State Stars, defeating Ea Lla Koto 1-0 at the Seisa Ramabodu Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Having beaten Stars at Botshabelo Stadium earlier in the 2010/11 season, Phunya Sele Sele confirmed their status as top dogs in the Free State with a narrow victory, secured courtesy of a first half goal from striker Siphelele Mthembu.
Celtic, however, can count themselves lucky at having picked up the full haul of points on offer, as Ea Lla Koto missed out on several good chances to equalise in the second half.
The result sees Celtic strengthen their grip on fifth place on the log: they move to 46 points, five behind fourth-placed Mamelodi Sundowns (who have a game in hand) and eight ahead of sixth-placed Bidvest Wits. Stars remain in seventh on 34 points.
Stars seemed to find their rhythm earlier than the hosts, but once Celtic hit the crossbar in the eighth minute – lanky Erick Mathoho stabbed a shot against the woodwork after a scramble in the penalty area – it was the team in green and white who looked the likelier scorers.
Ea Lla Koto captain Kennedy Mweene was forced into a couple of important interventions, particularly from Danny Venter and Clifford Mulenga – the two creative players looked capable of unlocking the visitors’ defence at any given moment.
And in the 32nd minute Celtic took a deserved lead with a beautifully crafted move. Mulenga played a sublime through ball for the overlapping Prince Hlela on the left, he in turn clipped a low pass across the face of goal and Siphelele Mthembu converted the chance with a tap-in at the far post.
Celtic’s dominance forced Stars into an early tactical reshuffle: Madoda Motha made way for Siyabonga Mdluli, whose introduction freed Thabo Matlaba to play more of attacking role down the left flank. However, lone striker Boitumelo Sekgobela remained an isolated figure and the score remained 1-0 in favour of Phunya Sele Sele up to the half time interval.
Ea Lla Koto very nearly struck back – against the run of play – in the 53rd minute: substitute Noah Chivuta was given a clear sight of goal but he pulled his shot wide of the target under pressure from Mathoho.
That opportunity signalled a shift in the balance of the contest, with the visitors suddenly looking capable of finding a way back into the game. Chivuta had another chance on the hour mark, powering a header on target, but Patrick Tignyemb made a good save.
Celtic remained a threatening attacking force and with just over 20 minutes to play they should have doubled their advantage: Mulenga sliced open Stars’ defence with a powerful run down the right and pulled a perfect ball back for Mthembu, but the striker somehow put his effort over the top from just a couple of metres out.
Stars came within inches of an equaliser in the 82nd minute, as defender Sipho Nkosi got on the end of a Chivuta free kick and powered a header toward goal, only to see the ball rebound off the upright.
Soon thereafter Sekgobela found himself one-on-one with Tignyemb but the goalkeeper did just enough to stop the striker getting a shot away and Thabo Nthethe was well placed to clear the loose ball before any Stars player could latch onto it.
Bloemfontein Celtic (1) 1 (Mthembu 32’)
Free State Stars 0
Teams: (4-4-2) Tignyemb; Moleko, Mathoho, Nthethe, Hlela; Venter (Mshengu 72’), Oersen, Kekana, Mulenga (Chenene 79’); Mthembu, Bacela (Kerspuy 87’)
Stars: (4-5-1) Mweene; Sauhatsi, Nkiadiambu, Nkosi, Matlaba; Motha (Mdluli 37’), Moholo, Bageta (Mofokeng 71’), Masehe, Madimabe (Chivuta 47’); Sekgobela
Referee: Daniel Bennett
Cautions: Hlela; Motha, Mdluli