Defending champions FCB Nyasa Big Bullets returned to the top of the table following their 1-0 hard-fought victory over Mighty Tigers on Thursday afternoon at Kamuzu Stadium.
The People’s Team had to work hard to triumph against a very resilient side that was eager to make them run for their money.
With injuries hitting his side very hard, Kalisto Pasuwa made several changes to the team that lost to TP Mazembe in the second preliminary round first leg match at Bingu National Stadium last Sunday.
The likes of Chawanangwa Gumbo, Eric Kaonga, Rabson Chiyenda, Collins Okumu, and Yamikani Fodya were included in the first eleven while Tigers maintained the side that beat Red Lions last week.
In the entire opening half, Bullets had no shot at goal, with Tigers coming close to scoring a goal on two occasions through Frank Chikufenji, who was found unmarked from a cornerkick only to send his effort over the crossbar and Precious Chiudza whose header missed Chiyenda’s left-hand side with just an inch.
The visitors were a better side as they kept on knocking the ball around through Precious Chipungu, Chikufenji, and Ben Manyozo, but to unlock Bullets’ defense proved too difficult for the ‘Kau-Kau’ boys.
In the 28th minute, an error in defense nearly gifted Tigers a goal as Chipungu was found unmarked in the penalty box but he was late to shoot at goal as he allowed Bullets to regroup and defend their area.
Moments later, Chikufenji delivered a million-dollar cross into the box to Chiudza, who lowered his body to produce a powerful header that missed the goalmouth with an inch, the closest for Tigers to get a goal.
At the other end, a cross from Gomezgani Chirwa into the box went unattended as both Hassan Kajoke and Lanjesi Nkhoma failed to communicate with each other as to who was supposed to get to the ball.
Bullets’ only attempt in the half came from Frank Willard, who blasted his effort over the crossbar.
Off the two goalkeepers, it was Chiyenda who was kept busy, unlike Innocent Nyasulu, who was at ease, a clear indication of how frustrating it was for the defending champions.
In the second half, Bullets showed up, pressed from all angles in search of the much needed goal, but Tigers’ defense, led by Alex Kambilinya and Masiya Manda, kept them at bay with some excellent defending throughout the opening minutes.
Three minutes into the half, Patrick Mwaungulu got the better of Martin Nsewa before releasing a thunderous shot that was well saved by Nyasulu, his serious involvement in the match, and from the rebound, Kajoke failed to tap in.
Tigers had their chance as well through Chikufenji, who saw his rocket well saved by Chiyenda for a cornerkick, which was well defended by Okumu.
There was a moment of brilliance from Willard who released a shot from 30-yard out, but Nyasulu was also equal to the task with a fantastic save.
Bullets brought in Ephraim Kondowe and Anthony Mfune for Kajoke and Nkhoma while Ben Manyozo was replaced by Iven Mwakapenda for Tigers.
Mfune almost registered his name on the scoresheet when he was set through by Mwaungulu, but the forward fired over the crossbar to the disappointment of his coach and fellow players.
Bullets kept on knocking, Tigers kept on defending, the clock kept on ticking, and the home fans kept on wondering as to what was happening.
The visitors were relentless as they kept on frustrating the home fans with some decent passes, but they were let down by Chipungu, who couldn’t put the ball into the net.
With less than 15 minutes left to play, Mwaungulu’ shot was well saved by Nyasulu, and Mfune failed to capitalize as he saw his weaker shot well defended by the visitors.
Christopher Nyambose’s men almost grabbed a late winner when Mwakapenda created a shooting space only for him to be denied by the posts, and Chikufenji fired straight at Chiyenda from the rebound.
‘Bullets nkumadzulo” so they say, indeed, with two minutes to go, referee Mwayi Msungama awarded the hosts a penalty following a handball incident from which Fodya stepped up to score his third goal of the season and eventually handle Bullets an important win to move top of the standings with 40 points, level with Wanderers but leading the log table on goal difference.
However, the defending champions have played 19 games while Wanderers have played 21 games.
At Kasungu Stadium, an early goal from Olson Kanjira inspired Kamuzu Barracks to a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Ekwendeni Hammers to move into fifth position with 32 points, dislodging Karonga United who lost 2-1 to Wanderers on Wednesday.
The defeat leaves Hammers in 9th position with 28 points from 23 games.