Ten-man Nyasa Big Bullets moved top of the TNM Super League standings after securing a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Civil Service United at Civo Stadium on Saturday.
Bullets had to sweat for the three points from a highly charged opposition who were finding it easy to play on a bumpy and dry pitch.
Head coach Kalisto Pasuwa made two changes to the side that hammered Rumphi United 4-1 last week, with Gomezgani Chirwa retaining his place after serving a suspension whilst Nickson Nyasulu replaced John Lanjesi who was in the terraces.
First half action saw fewer chances created as both teams resorted to secondary balls due to the condition of the pitch.
Bullets had a wonderful opportunity to take the lead in the 5th minute.
After a beautifully constructed counter-attack, Henry Kabichi released Patrick Mwaungulu through on goal with the perfect through ball from a set piece but his shot was well saved by Ernest Kakhobwe who, for the first time, was facing his former team.
At the opposite end of the field, Christopher Kumwembe got the better of Chirwa into the shooting space closer to Rabson Chiyenda’s goal but his shot hit the side net for a goal kick.
With 28 minutes gone, The People’s Team won a free-kick meters away from Kakhobwe’s goal after Mwaungulu was fouled by Timothy Silwimba.
The victim stepped up to deliver the ball into the box to Hassan Kajoke who failed to connect well for a goalkick.
After the half-hour mark, the hosts dominated possession through Bashir Maunde, Chikaiko Batison, Damiano Kunje but they struggled to unlock Nyasulu’s led defence which was very organized throughout the match.
With six minutes left to play, Bullets won another free-kick closer to the goal area but Mwaungulu saw his shot well blocked by Civil’s defence for a corner kick which was poorly taken by the visitors and that was all for the half.
Shortly after the resumption, Pasuwa made a double substitution when he brought in Babatunde Adepoju and Yankho Singo for Kabichi and Lanjesi Nkhoma.
In the 47th minute, Kajoke went close to giving Bullets a lead when his power header was tipped over the cross bar by Kakhobwe.
But four minutes after his introduction, Babatunde found the opener in an unbelievable circumstances.
A through ball from Petro to Chimwemwe Idana saw the 2020/21 player of the season sending a loose ball into the box which saw Civil’s John Dambuleni reacting very slowly, allowing Babatunde to capitalize with a beautiful volley over the advanced Kakhobwe.
After conceding, the hosts looked sharper as they were trying to grind their way back into the game but were coming up against a very stubborn Bullets defence.
60 minutes into the half, Bullets launched another counter attack through Kajoke, Petro and Idana to Babatunde who failed to control the ball but won a corner kick after the ball touched Kunje before going out.
However, Bullets failed to get something out of the set piece situation.
As the clock was fast ticking, Bullets introduced Macfallen Mgwira and Mphatso Magaleta for Idana and Mwaungulu whilst Franco Ndawa brought in Binwell Katinji, Luke Chima and Dan Kumwenda for Patrick Phiri, Innocent Tanganyika and Moses Banda.
Moments later, Chirwa lost possession to Katinji in a very dangerous position and the striker made a good run into the box before releasing a thunderous shot which forced Chiyenda into making a save for a corner.
The Servants were pressing for an equalizer and they should have leveled in the 78th minute when Bullets’ defence struggled to clear a long ball from Silwimba which then landed straight at Chirwa who did everything right to shoot at goal but Kesten Simbi was on point with a priceless clearance.
With ten minutes to go, Chiyenda called for medical attention after he collided with Kumwembe and in the course of receiving treatment, Referee Easter Zimba cautioned the shot-stopper for an ‘alleged’ time wasting.
With 90 minutes played, Zimba added five minutes to the break and just a minute into the minutes, Chiyenda received his second yellow card for time wasting.
With all the substitutions used, Petro was deployed into the goalkeeping position and the visitors were forced to defend the remaining minutes with one man down.
Lucky enough, Civil posed no threat to Bullets and after the final whistle, the hosts rushed into the pitch to manhandle Zimba who was accused of blowing his whistle when there were some minutes left to play.
But this was a moment of celebrations for the defending champions who collected the points in a very hard way.
This means Bullets are top with 23 points from nine games, a game more than Eagles who are playing Mighty Tigers on Sunday.