Black Leopards preserve Premiership status as Ajax remain rooted in the NFD
By completing the National First Division promotion/relegation play-off double with a 2-0 win against Ajax Cape Town at the Rand Stadium‚ Black Leopards secured their place in the Premiership on Friday.
Ajax‚ who were beaten 1-0 in the corresponding fixture‚ needed to win convincingly at Rand Stadium‚ which would have left Leopards needing a win by many goals against Tshakuma Tsha Madzhivandila in Monday’s final playoff fixture at FNB Stadium.
It wasn’t to be for the Urban Warriors as a listless display in a high stakes game consigned them to another season in the GladAfrica Championship.
How they’ll be able to mount another promotion run without the departing Grant Margeman will remain to be seen.
Ajax moved swimmingly when their robust midfield talisman was pulling the strings in midfield. Margeman‚ who featured in his 100th game for Ajax‚ will be joining Mamelodi Sundowns in the off-season.
When he was injured‚ Ajax lost their way and when he came back Swallows FC had already found the momentum that was to catapult them past Ajax in the last two league rounds.
That said‚ in both playoff games against Leopards Ajax were not only well short of a gallop‚ they were caught short by a better organised side.
It’ll be a bitter pill to swallow for Calvin Marlin’s side as last season they missed out on the play-offs on goal difference.
That Leopards gained an opportunity to fight for their status despite being the second-worst top-tier side will remain one of the most enduring debates in South African football.
However‚ for the second season running‚ the 15th-placed Premiership team has survived the playoffs without raising much of a sweat. The key for Leopards will be to build on their survival in the same way Maritzburg United got through the baptism of fire to become one of the more formidable sides.
That said‚ with Ajax and Black Leopards tied on six points‚ with the former leading on goal difference‚ the winner of this game was going to have the whip hand in the promotion race.
Leopards could afford to lose and bank on beating TTM to preserve their status‚ but the two goals from Isaac Masia in the 14th minute and Mwape Musonda’s clincher in the 79th were enough to render Monday’s game academic.
Ajax couldn’t quite find the high gears that saw them drill five second-half goals against TTM and they couldn’t do anything to prevent the effervescent Tiklas Thutlwa from providing the assists that led to the two goals.
They were more than enough and the fact that Leopards kept a clean sheet in both wins against Ajax was the clear superiority marker.
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