JOHANNESBURG May 13 Sapa
GUTSY LEOPARDS' AFRICAN FAIRY TALE CONTINUES
A Kingston Nkhatha brace ensured Black Leopards' passage to the Caf Confederation Cup third round play-offs, beating Warri Wolves 2-0 in Polokwane on Sunday.
The spirited Limpopo outfit's fairy tale rookie continental participation continued as they progressed on an away goal rule with scores deadlocked at 3-3 on aggregate.
Leopards had a 3-1 first leg deficit from a fortnight ago in Warri, Nigeria, to earn a creditable come-from-behind victory in front of a paltry crowd at the Peter Mokaba Stadium.
Nkhatha opened proceedings with an inch-perfect direct free kick on the edge of the box in the 21st minute as the hosts took a 1-0 interval lead.
Then the bulky striker doubled his tally after 67 minutes, slotting home a pass from substitute midfielder Raymond Manama for the crucial score.
The Zimbabwean was denied a deserved a hat-trick in the 75th minute when he was dubiously adjudged for dangerous play on a Wolves defender, which meant his "goal" could not stand.
Despite their Premiership relegation concerns, compounded by the resignation of coach Vladislav Heric last week, Leopards were gutsy in the encounter.
They dominated the physically-imposing West Africans, whose best chance was Thankgod Ikechukwu's pinpoint header in the first half that drew a blinding one-hand stop from Azwindini Maphaha.
The Leopards shot stopper, who has been criticised for his mercurial performances in goal, held firm in the afternoon as he marshalled the often leaky defence.
The Nigerian visitors were less of a threat in the second half, as they started off aiming to defend their slender aggregate lead and lacked cohesiveness.
"We needed a goal in the first half and were lucky," said stand-in Leopards coach Sunday Chidzambwa.
"We were patient, disciplined and didn't open at the back and then we managed the second goal, which was brilliant."
Leopards' next competition stage is the play-off rounds that will include eight Caf Champions League second round losers at the end of June.
The draw is set to be conducted after the completion of all matches.
The winner will progress through to the eight-team group stage that begins in August, followed by the semi-finals and a final that is set for November 25.
Leopards' next concerns are on the domestic front with a league fixture against fellow strugglers, Jomo Cosmos, in Daveyton on Wednesday.
However, a win will ensure that they retain their Premiership status for the new season.