Shalulile scores twice as Sundowns survive scare to extend lead

Star Mamelodi Sundowns forward Peter Shalulile (R) playing for Namibia against South Africa at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.

Star Mamelodi Sundowns forward Peter Shalulile (R) playing for Namibia against South Africa at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt. Creator: JAVIER SORIANO

Namibia star Peter Shalulile scored twice as Mamelodi Sundowns survived a late scare to defeat Royal AM 3-2 on Wednesday and stretch a South African Premiership lead to 11 points.

Thabiso Kutumela rewarded Sundowns for giving him a rare start by scoring the only goal of the first half after six minutes in Pretoria.

Shalulile, winner of the South African Player of the Season and Players' Player of the Season awards last year, struck twice in seven minutes to extend the hosts' advantage to three goals.

Victor Letsoalo, surprisingly named among the substitutes as he is the leading Royal scorer, came off the bench in the second half and netted twice to set up a tense finish.  

Sundowns were indebted to veteran goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene, part of the 2012 Zambia Africa Cup of Nations-winning team, for preserving the lead with a reflex stoppage-time save.

Shalulile has scored 11 goals and South African international Letsoalo eight in the Premiership this season to occupy first and second places in the scorers' chart. 

"It is not a game I wish to discuss and the sooner I forget about it the better," said deadpan Sundowns co-coach Rhulani Mokwena.

He was probably angered by the penalty Letsoala converted for his second goal as TV replays showed the ball striking Sundowns centre-back Rushine de Reuck in the stomach.

However, the referee and one of his assistants thought otherwise and awarded a spot kick, believing De Reuck handled the ball. 

"We were so sluggish early in each half and it cost us dearly," admitted Royal coach and former Malawi star John Maduka.

"My boys woke up only when they were three goals behind and yet we came so close to snatching a point. The lesson from this match is that you have to be wide awake for 90 minutes, not 30."

While Sundowns maintained an unbeaten record after 14 matches and rose to 34 points, most of their rivals for the 15 million rand ($955,000/840,000 euros) first prize slipped up.

Second-placed Sekhukhune United fell 1-0 at home to lowly Marumo Gallants near Johannesburg with Joseph Malongoane scoring his first goal of the season.

Royal dropped one place to fourth after losing and fifth-placed Kaizer Chiefs did not play because many players and staff have tested positive for coronavirus.

Another top-half side to flop were Stellenbosch, whose winless run stretched to six matches when visiting SuperSport United snatched a 1-0 win through a late Bradley Grobler goal and rose to third.

Orlando Pirates and hosts AmaZulu, the other upper-half teams, drew 1-1 in Durban with Namibian Deon Hotto having his goal for the Buccaneers cancelled by Tshepang Moremi on the stroke of half-time.   

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