The longest Super League run in Malawi’s football history finally came to an end on Saturday afternoon when Nyasa Big Bullets clinched a third TNM Super League title in a row with a hard-fought 3-2 win over Karonga United at Kamuzu Stadium.
Goals were at a premium on the final day at the country’s oldest football stadium as the visitors took a deserved 2-0 first half lead to silence the home fans who came out in large numbers to witness the crowning ceremony.
But Bullets produced a stunning performance in the second half to score three goals which were enough to collect maximum points in a season which head coach Kalisto Pasuwa described as the ‘toughest’.
Pasuwa made several changes to the side that won 3-0 at Kamuzu Barracks by handing starts to Nelson Kangunje, Dalitso Sailesi, Rabson Chiyenda and Anthony Mfune as per requested by supporters who voted for the starting eleven whilst Karonga United had no Sherrif Shamama who is nursing an injury.
This nearly backfired as the visitors through Clement Nyondo, Mphatso Kamanga, William Mwalwimba and Josiah Duwa made things very difficult for the champions especially in the midfield where Sailesi and Kangunje were operating.
In the 14th minute, Karonga United created their first goal scoring opportunity when Miracle Gabeya failed to clear a long ball from Steve Saka which found Nyondo in a one on one situation with Chiyenda but his weaker shot was cleared by Gabeya before crossing the line.
But two minutes later, the visitors broke the deadlock with a brilliant goal.
A hand ball by Eric Kaonga closer to the penalty box forced referee Alfred Kaphamtengo to award Karonga United a freekick from which Duwa stepped up before slotting the ball past Chiyenda to the top corner, 0-1.
The hosts almost pulled level in the 24th minute when Chimwemwe Idana sent a through ball to Mfune who quickly delivered the ball into the box but Kajoke’s shot was well blocked by Nangie Songa for a corner which had no impact at all.
Bullets were 2-0 in the 28th minute.
Brilliant work from Mwilwimba saw him beating Gomezgani Chirwa before delivering a cross into the box which Chiyenda and Gabeya failed to clear, allowing Kamanga to finish off the ball into the net, 0-2.
Bullets created another chance in the 36th minute when Kaonga’s corner was connected well by Idana only to be denied by Mwendepeka who blocked the ball for a corner.
Bullets brought in Henry Kabichi, Ernest Petro and Lanjesi Nkhoma for Meshack Selemani, Sailesi and Kangunje in the 38th minute.
The last chance of the match to Bullets came in the 43rd minute from a freekick but Mwendepeka made another brilliant clearance.
In the second half, Pasuwa brought in Stainley Biliat for Mfune to try to add firepower upfront in search for the much-needed goals.
These changed brought some rhythm to Bullets as the hosts upped their game and were now always the first to arrive on the ball.
In the 46th minute, Biliat made a brilliant run to the left flank and delivered a dangerous ball into the box but Mwendepeka was very quick to snatch the ball away from Kajoke for a corner which was cleared by Songa.
In the 53rd minute, Bullets’ floodgates opened. Biliat burst onto an in-perfect through ball by Idana before sending a cross into the box which met Kajoke to head past Yona Milanzi in goal for the visitors, 1-2.
Moments later, the hosts should have been level.
Another exchange of passes between Idana, Petro and Biliat found Chirwa who was quick to shoot at goal but his effort was well blocked by Songa for a corner.
It was now Bullets against Karonga United’s back four with some series of counter attacking football architected by Idana and Petro.
In 55th minute, Kabichi had an opportunity to capitalize on a set piece but his shot went straight at Milanzi who had an easy task at hand as no one in a red shirt was anywhere near his area.
But on 58th minute, the match was level.
A clearance from Milanzi saw the visitors losing possession to Idana who made a quick decision to find Nkhoma in a one on one situation and the youngster made no mistake by slotting the ball past the advanced Milanzi, 2-2.
Moments later, Milanzi was forced into making a save which denied Kajoke from doubling his tally.
Despite pressing for more goals, Karonga United was able to ease the pressure and start taking the game back to the hosts.
In quick succession, the visitors, through Kamanga and Duwa forced Chiyenda into making quick saves when Bullets’ defence was caught napping in the line of duty.
In 62nd minute, Nyondo was replaced by Thoko Harrison for the visitors.
As the game was progressing, Kamanga had another opportunity to restore his side’s lead but his well taken freekick just missed Chiyenda’ upright with an inch.
Chiyenda was called into action again in the 73rd minute when he produced a fantastic save to deny Mwalwimba from scoring after he was found unmarked in the box by Songa’s corner kick.
At the other end, Kajoke made a brilliant run to the far left before sending a million-dollar cross into the box which found Nkhoma unmarked and the forward did everything right by producing a powerful header which was well saved by Milanzi in an unbelievable circumstance.
In the 86th minute, Khumbo Msowoya came in for Gabinho Daudi for the visitors.
With the match at 2-2, Karonga United would have wished the game to end that way and that would have seen them collecting four points over Bullets following the first round 1-0 win at Karonga Stadium.
But Bullets were able to find the winning goal in the 90th minute through Kajoke.
A brilliant run by Nkhoma into the box left Mwalwimba with no choice but to take down the forward, forcing Kaphamtengo to point straight at the spot and Kajoke stepped up to put the ball beyond Milanzi’s reach, 3-2.
With four minutes added to the clock, it was now a dancing time for the champions with passes throughout the minutes to collect all the points on the last day of the league.
At the end of the match, Idana was named Man of the Match.
The win sees Bullets winning the title for the third time in a row and 15th title to their name.
The People’s Team has finished eight points below the 70-point mark set in the 2019 season.
The result means Karonga United failed to dislodge Civil Sporting Club from fourth position as they have finished on fifth position with 46 points.
At Mpira Stadium, Be Forward Wanderers and Moyale Barracks played out to a goalless draw.
The Nomads have finished the season on third position with 55 points whilst the Mzuzu based Soldiers have completed the season on sixth position with 46 points.