Free State Stars needed a penalty shootout to end the gallant run by Ubuntu Cape Town in the Nedbank Cup as they edged past the National First Division club in Saturday’s quarter-final, winning 4-2 on post-match spotkicks after a 1-1 draw.
It was let off for the top flight team who had to come from behind and hold out in extra time where goalkeeper Thela Ngobeni made some key stops to save them from a shoc k defeat.
The on-loan keeper was also the hero in the shootout with two saves as Stars made sure of all their kicks and a place in the semifinals in three weeks’ time.
Ubuntu had taken the lead as they sought to extend their giant killing run in the competition with a 28th minute goal from Taahir Ganga but allowed Goodman Dlamini to equalise before half-time.
Stars had the better of the second half but allowed Ubuntu to find a second wind in extra time as their teenager-dominated team had chances for another upset, foiled only by the heroics of Ngobeni
The confidence that Ubuntu had gained from their previous two cup games against Polokwane City and AmaZulu was obvious from the start as they showed no fear of their high flying opponents and took the early exchanges to Stars.
The teenage midfielder Kamohelo Mahlatsi, on loan from SuperSport United, forced a fine save from Ngobeni in the 17th minute and Clint Fredericks put a glancing header just wide soon after, at the end of an inviting cross from Mhlengi Sigwebela.
Ngobeni, handling the ball outside his penalty area, gave away the free kick that led to the opening goal, expertly executed by the home side.
Ubuntu captain Temptation Chiwunga floated to the back post, centre back Gerome Heutchou-Kuilong headed it back down into the smallbox and Ganga finished if off from close range with a header as well.
It was as much as the plucky NFD side deserved after an attacking approach and several well-worked build-ups.
Their goalkeeper Malcolm Jacobs did nothing in the first half except pick up the ball
out of his own net as Dlamini fired home the equaliser a minute before the break. It was a goal that came almost out of nowhere but Ubuntu had taken their foot off the pedal and paid a price for playing for time as they sought to take a lead into the interval.
Siphelele Mthembu came on at half time as Stars attempted to get back in the game and he had two half chances as he put pressure on the inexperienced home defence.
But he missed a horrible sitter later that might have given Stars and avoid extra time, especially with a key league game to come at home to Kaizer Chiefs on Wednesday.
Clint Fredericks had two excellent shots saved by Ngobeni near the end to force the game into the shootout where the experience of Stars finally decided the outcome.