Stars thrash Maritzburg

The result at Olen Park will come as a great relief to the Tycoons and their supporters, after recent struggles had threatened to drag them down into the relegation battle.

Stars called on veteran defender Willem Jackson to fill in at centre back thanks to the absence of Michael Khaile, Daniel Tshabalala (both suffering from illness) and Oscar Ntwagae (injured).

The 37-year-old immediately repaid the faith shown in him by coach Miguel Gamondi when he got on the end of a free-kick from Dillon Sheppard and headed the hosts into a ninth minute lead.

The early goal gave the Tycoons the confidence to go on and dominate possession in the rest of the first-half, though they struggled to break down United’s resilient rearguard.

Young striker Bradley Grobler tried his luck with a fierce strike from a free-kick just before the half hour mark, but the ball flashed wide of Tashrique Goldman’s left-hand post.

Maritzburg had set out with only one recognised striker, Fadlu Davids, in their line-up and Gordon Igesund didn’t even wait for half-time to shuffle his pack, sending on Collen Zimba in place of Sylla Mbemba in the 40th minute to offer more of a threat to Stars’ defence.

But before Zimba could even get a touch, the home side doubled their advantage. Again it was from a set-piece, with another terrific delivery from Sheppard finding Luis Renteria unmarked in the penalty area. The South American easily beat Goldman with a header to make it 2-0.

Igesund took drastic action early in the second half, sending on Sam Ndlovu and Brice Aka for Gary Goldstone and Tony Tsabedze respectively, meaning he had used up all three substitutions with just 50 minutes on the clock.

The tactical changes from the visitors saw them take control of the game and put Stars on the back foot. However, they could find no way through the hosts’ backline and goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands hardly had to make a save.

Then, with just over 20 minutes to play, two events effectively decided the game in Stars’ favour. The first saw them awarded a penalty after Godfrey Sapula was tripped up by Goldman – Renteria dispatched the spot-kick to make it 3-0.

Then Zimba, who had been booked a few minutes earlier for a dive, picked up his second yellow card for an idiotic late challenge on Sheppard and duly received his marching orders from referee Charl Theron, reducing United to ten men.

Stars took advantage of their numerical superiority, with Sheppard providing an exquisite left-footed finish to make it 4-0 in the 74th minute.

The Tycoons remain in 12th position, but move up to 34 points, seven clear of 15th-placed Bloemfontein Celtic, and have a game in hand over all of the bottom four. United are 13th on 31 points, two and four clear of Thanda and Celtic respectively.