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The narrow and hard-fought victories registered last Saturday by Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs over SuperSport United and Maritzburg United respectively has at least ensured that the race for the runners-up spot will retain some currency at the top end of the table for the remainder of the Premier Soccer League (PSL) season.  

Pirates’ 1-0 win over Matsatsantsa courtesy of a second half penalty calmly converted by Thapelo Xoki not only cut the gap between themselves and Gavin Hunt’s side to just two points, it  also opened the door for champions-elect Mamelodi Sundowns to add another record to their already impressive and growing array of new landmarks in the PSL.  

In addition to the prospect of claiming a record-extending sixth consecutive title and 13th overall, Rhulani Mokwena’s side, who hold a huge 20-point lead over their Tshwane neighbours, are also on the cusp of breaking the record 16-point winning margin set last season.  

Victory for Sundowns over visitors Cape Town City in their next league game on April 1 — or a failure by SuperSport to beat Chippa United on the same day — will see Masandawana clinching the title after only 24 games, breaking their own record for the fewest games taken to win the title. It took Gordon Igesund’s side only 25 games to win the league, Sundowns’ fifth, in the 2006-2007 season when they became champions on April 22 2007.   

Chiefs’ 3-2 victory over Maritzburg United, their third this season over the Team of Choice, also sees them moving to within two points of SuperSport  with seven games to play.  

Amakhosi’s victory though was tinged with some controversy as they were awarded a highly contested 76th minute penalty that was coolly slotted home by Yusuf Maart.  

Chiefs striker Ashley du Preez went down very easily inside the penalty area after minimal contact with the forearm of his former Stellenbosch FC teammate Mogamad de Goede to win what turned out to be a winning spot kick. It secured a third straight victory for Amakhosi who are building up a decent head of steam at a crucial stage of the season while extending the home side’s worrying winless run in the league to six games.  

So livid was Maritzburg coach Fadlu Davids about the penalty decision that he suggested in the post-match interview that the difference between the two teams was “a supporter” before abruptly ending the interaction.

Chippa United, who are themselves in desperate need of points to move clear of the relegation zone, could yet play a vital role in the race for the second Caf Champions League place. They host SuperSport and Pirates in their first two games after the international break before welcoming Amakhosi to the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium three weeks later. 

Hunt’s side are due to play four of their remaining seven games, including their potentially decisive penultimate fixture against Kaizer Chiefs at home. That advantage will, however, be nullified somewhat after the PSL’s decision to declare out of bounds their fortress, the Lucas Moripe Stadium where they are unbeaten in 11 league games this season, due to legitimate security concerns. 

For the moment, all the club coaches who have players away on international duty will be hoping their charges return unscathed as the business end of the season gets into full swing. 

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