Zambian Samu strikes as Maritzburg claim another prized scalp
Zambian Friday Samu scored as lowly Maritzburg United upset Royal AM 1-0 on Wednesday to leave the race for second place in the South African Premiership wide open.
Samu, a 26-year-old international forward who joined United in mid-2021, claimed his fourth league goal of the season by nodding a corner part Cameroonian goalkeeper Hugo Nyame on 22 minutes.
It was a rare highlight in a dour duel as hosts Maritzburg reinforced a reputation for claiming prized scalps in the richest African football league, with a 15 million rand ($970,000/915,000 euros) first prize.
Success ended a five-match winless run by United, whose last victory came on March 5 against Mamelodi Sundowns, who have since clinched a record-extending fifth straight title.
“We had a lot of energy tonight, and good game management in the closing stages,” said veteran Maritzburg centre-back Clayton Daniels, who was voted man of the match.
“It is great to have the fans back (after coronavirus-induced restrictions) and we always want to make them proud. They lift us so much.
“Why do we perform so well against the top teams and struggle against lesser ones? I do not have an exact answer, but part of the reason may be that we play without fear against the big boys.
“These three points will go a long way toward ensuring our survival after a challenging season. We are not safe yet, but are heading in the right direction.”
– Goal difference –
Royal remained second despite the loss, but are ahead of Cape Town City only on goal difference, with Kaizer Chiefs fourth, three points behind with three rounds remaining.
Apart from a second prize of 7.5 million rand, the Premiership runners-up qualify for the 2022-2023 CAF Champions League with Sundowns.
Royal lost a couple of hours after Cape Town stretched an unbeaten run to 11 matches by drawing 0-0 away to Chippa United in Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth).
Chiefs snapped a four-match losing streak with a 1-0 win over Marumo Gallants on Tuesday through a goal from Keagan Dolly, reportedly the highest paid Premiership star with a 1.45 million rand monthly salary.
The club finishing third goes into the CAF Confederation Cup, the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League, with FA Cup winners or runners-up Marumo.
Gallants are guaranteed a second successive appearance in Africa as final opponents Sundowns have secured a Champions League slot for the eight straight season.
Bottom club Baroka edged Golden Arrows 1-0 through a Bonginkosi Makume penalty, but are two points behind Swallows, and remain likely to be relegated.
The club finishing second last goes into play-offs with two second division teams for one Premiership place, and Swallows are three points adrift of TS Galaxy.