Free State Stars edge Wits to reach TKO quarters

Free State Stars claimed a hard-fought 1-0 win over Bidvest Wits at Goble Park on Saturday afternoon to move into the quarterfinals of the 2015 Telkom Knockout.

Ea Lla Koto midfielder Danny Venter scored an excellent goal in the second half to decide the match, while the Clever Boys were left frustrated after bossing most of the game and missing several glaring scoring opportunities.

Wits had two early chances from which they should have claimed the lead. In the opening minute Joaquim Lupeta fired a left-footed shot mere inches wide of the target, while shortly thereafter he provided a perfect cross to pick out Jabulani Shongwe, who had a free header but directed his effort wide of the far post.

The Clever Boys continued to look the sharper, more creative team in attack, but they needed goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs to make an excellent save to keep out a Danny Venter free kick in the 22nd minute.

Yet Josephs’ save was put in the shade four minutes later by his counterpart Daouda Diakite, who made a brilliant one-handed stop to deny Sibusiso Vilakazi when the attacker looked all but certain to open the scoring.

Stars were disjointed in their play in the opening half hour, but the first-half introduction of Lucky Mohomi in place of Liberty Chakoroma (one of three starting centre-backs) and the subsequent change of shape saw an improvement for the hosts.

Ea Lla Koto made another change at the start of the second half, pulling off Sthembiso Ngcobo and replacing him with last season’s top goal scorer, Moeketsi Sekola, in an effort to spark their attack to life.

Yet Wits remained the more fluid and penetrative side, with Lupeta using his power and pace to great effect in the 48th minute, only to be denied by a brave block from the excellent Diakite.

However, Clever Boys coach Gavin Hunt was clearly frustrated by his side’s forwards, as on the hour mark he replaced both Lupeta and Vilakazi, giving a run to youngster Phamakani Mahlambi and the experienced Calvin Kadi.

The match needed a moment of inspiration to bring it to life and Stars’ Danny Venter provided it with just under 20 minutes of regulation time to play. The midfielder fired home a left-footed long-range shot – which gave Josephs no chance whatsoever – to finally break the deadlock.

Venter’s goal proved to be the decisive moment of the match, with Stars able to hold out and claim a victory which puts their name into the hat for Monday’s quarterfinal draw.

Free State Stars (0) 1 (Venter 72’)

Bidvest Wits 0

Stars: Diakite, Mashego, Sankara, Chakoroma (Mohomi 28’), Rakoti, Thlone, Ngasa, Masehe, Venter, Fileccia, Ngcobo (Sekola 46’)

Wits: Josephs, Allie, Hlatshwayo, Mkhwanazi, Bhasera, Pelembe (Motshwari 80’), Shongwe, Ntshangase, Klate, Vilakazi (Kadi 61’), Lupeta (Mahlambi 60’)