Precious Sambani scored the only goal in the first half to inspire Nyasa Big Bullets to a hard-fought 1-0 victory away to Blue Eagles at Nankhaka Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The result means Bullets are still second with 32 points, six behind current log leaders Silver Strikers but the gap can be cut to three if they beat TN Stars on Sunday in Kasungu.
It was a match which Bullets completely dominated in the opening minutes and they should have won with a bigger margin had it been John Soko wasn’t outstanding in the encounter.
Bullets got off to a great start and claimed the lead in the fourth minute when Chimwemwe Idana set through Precious Sambani through a freekick and the left winger made no mistake by firing past John Soko from close range to put the visitors in early control.
The defending league champions were in full control of the match and should have doubled their lead in the ninth minute when Hassan Kajoke overpowered Wonder Jeremani but his shot inside the penalty box went wide with nobody to finish as Soko was nowhere near his position.
At the other end of the field, the hosts created their first goal scoring opportunity in the 15th minute when Mphatso Philemon forced Richard Chimbamba into making a save for a corner which was easily cleared by Nickson Nyasulu to the safety.
The People’s Team then suffered a huge blow when midfielder Mike Mkwate was stretchered off after sustaining an injury and he was replaced by Ernest Petro.
Bullets had another chance in the 37th minute through a freekick but Sambani sent his effort over the crossbar.
In the additional minutes of the first half, Bullets had another chance through Kajoke who was set through by Chiukepo Msowoya but the forward could not believe it as Soko came to Eagles’ rescue with a spectacular save and there was nobody to finish off the ball as Onesmo Mbendera cleared the danger away.
In the second half, it only took Bullets three minutes to create another good chance.
Gomezgani Chirwa found Msowoya unmarked in the six-yard box and the forward wasted no time by shooting at goal but Soko produced a double save in unbelievable circumstance.
In the 56th minute, Msowoya made a brilliant run into the box after receiving a pass from Idana but he opted to shoot from a tight ago when passing was the better solution as Kajoke had already placed himself in a good shooting position.
Eagles continued to look short of their best in the second half, with coach Gerald Phiri opting for a tactical change when he replaced Philemon and Gabriel Chirwa with Stuart Mbunge and John Malidadi Jnr.
Almost immediately, Eagles upped their game, with the visitors needing Chimbamba to come quickly off his line to prevent Maxwell Salambura netting the leveler, while Kelvin Tsibwabwa struck over from long range a few seconds later.
Bullets had another freekick in the 69th minute when Jeremani fouled Idana closer to the penalty box but Sambani drove his effort over the cross bar.
Pasuwa brought in Zicco Mkanda and Meshack Seleman for Kajoke and Msowoya whilst Kingsley Kuwali came in for Salambura.
Eagles had their best chance to equalize in the 77th minute when a long ball from Chisomo Chilasa was misjudged by Nyasulu to land straight at Mbulu who released a rocket inside the 18-yard box but Chimbamba was on point as he produces a stunning save for a corner.
Mkanda was then forced off in the 83rd minute after sustaining an injury and was replaced by Bright Munthali, who made his first appearance for Bullets in more than four games.
Bullets nearly put the game beyond Eagles’ reach when Chirwa and Idana exchanged passes to release Seleman whose shot was saved by Soko.
In the 90th minute, Jereman was sent off for a second bookable offence after the dangerous play on Idana.
Yet Bullets shrugged off this advantage and uncannily saw out the remaining time with too much threat to their goal, with Eagles coming close to scoring in the 94th minute after Bullets’ defence was caught napping in the line of duty and that was all for the day as the visitors collected maximum points.
Sambani was named man of the match, his second accolade in the ongoing campaign.
Bullets will be back in action this Sunday when they play away to TN Stars in their final match before returning home.
At Silver Stadium, a first half brace from Maxwell Gasten and another strike from Frank Banda secured all three points for Silver Strikers who were playing Mafco FC.
Despite Mafco FC’ late strikes from Kingsley Nkhonjera and Maurice Chiumia, the Central Bankers held on to collect maximum points to maintain their six-point lead over Bullets.
The result means the Area 47 side are still unbeaten at home this season and are comfortably top with 38 points.
Image source: Nyasa Big Bullets