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For several years the last two fixtures in the Premier Soccer League (PSL) season have always kicked off simultaneously on the final two Saturdays of the campaign to ensure fairness to all the teams and eliminate any hint of potential skulduggery — call it match-fixing if you like. 

This has worked well and has also provided great excitement on the season’s final day — before Mamelodi Sundowns’ recent domination took away some of the jeopardy and tension at the top end of the table.

Who will forget the climax to the 2010-11 season when, on May 21 2011, Orlando Pirates ended an eight-year title drought by pipping Foppe de Haan’s talented young Ajax Cape Town to the title with literally minutes of the season remaining.  

While excited Capetonians, many of whom had not watched a PSL game before, had filled the stadium anticipating a massive celebration, Ajax were held to a shock 2-2 draw by a Maritzburg United side that had flirted with relegation for most of the season. Their balloons were literally pricked by the party poopers from the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

At the same time, about 1,500km away at Orlando Stadium, Isaac Chansa’s goal six minutes from time turned out to be the winner and title-clincher for Ruud Krol’s Buccaneers, who unexpectedly lifted their third PSL title.  

The end of the 2015-16 season was probably even more dramatic as Maritzburg United were once again one of the central actors in the script. And the date, curiously enough, was once more May 21, but this time it was their fate as a top-flight team that was at stake. 

A tense Olen Park in Potchefstroom was the scene for what must rank as the most dramatic final 10 minutes of a game ever in PSL history as the team of choice faced hosts Jomo Cosmos in what was a virtual relegation play-off final.  

Ezenkosi needed only a draw to secure their Premiership status while in Tshwane, bottom-of-the-log University of Pretoria had to beat Golden Arrows to ensure they lived to fight another day via the play-offs. 

Going into the last 10 minutes, Maritzburg were heading to the National First Division as Cosmos were leading 1-0, courtesy of a superb long-range strike by Linda Mntambo midway through the first half. 

And Tuks were comfortably leading Arrows 2-0 at the same time, eventually winning 2-1.

Mohau Mokate, who had come on as a substitute four minutes earlier, gave Ernst Middendorp’s side a glimmer of hope by heading in the equaliser, but it still wasn’t enough — they were level on points with Amatuks but with an inferior goal difference. 

But things changed dramatically in the final four minutes of a thoroughly absorbing encounter as a brace by Evans Rusike helped them dodge the relegation axe that had been hovering over the team for most of the season.  

The busloads of fans who had travelled from KwaZulu-Natal to support their team were delirious in the stands as the tears of joy of the Maritzburg management and players flowed freely on the battered turf that had just hosted 90-odd minutes of the most dramatic football.   

Cosmos, who had been safe just a few minutes earlier, were stunned. Having been in control for most of the game, they capitulated in the final few minutes as they faced the reality of being relegated for a record fourth time. 

Maritzburg’s survival must rank as one of the greatest escapes anywhere in the footballing world. They had occupied the bottom spot for 25 of the 30 rounds of the season and had only been outside the relegation zone after their first two games.

How unfortunate and avoidable then that Maritzburg United have been forced to play their final game of the season against champions Sundowns a full four days before their relegation rivals — Chippa United, Marumo Gallants (who were all level on 29 points) and Richards Bay (32) — play their last games. 

The unfortunate situation arose because of Masandawana’s march to the semifinals of the Caf Champions League where they face Wydad Casablanca in the second leg of their tie at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.  

Surely the PSL, to ensure the competition’s integrity is maintained, had enough time to make arrangements for the teams involved in the relegation battle to play their games simultaneously.  

As things stand, the other three teams will have a huge advantage in the relegation battle as they would know exactly what they need to do to avoid the drop or the season-extending play-offs.  

Of course, some will argue that it’s Maritzburg’s own fault they’ve got themselves into the sorry situation of facing relegation because of their sub-par performances throughout the season. But they should at least have been given a fair chance to extricate themselves from the hole they dug for themselves. 

No doubt there will be allegations come Saturday evening, when the dust has settled, of some of the key games producing contrived results. It could all have been avoided had the PSL management employed some lateral thinking to ensure the integrity of their flagship competition.     

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