Nyasa Big Bullets Reserves on Sunday marched into the semi-finals of the Aubrey Dimba Trophy following a 1-0 win over Extreme FC at the Aubrey Dimba Ground in Mchinji.
Enos Chatama made several changes to the side that defeated St. Gabriel Medicals earlier this month, with Chimwemwe Yassin, Franklin Titani, Stanley Billiat, Felix Demakude and Lyton Chinong’one all in the starting XI in the absence of Emmanuel Savieli, Sydney Chabulika, Alex Tsamba, Patrick Mwaungulu and Yamikani Mologeni.
As has been the norm in the junior team’s last few games, Bullets quickly set up camp in their opponents’ half straight from kick-off, displaying great confidence on the ball.
But playing a team that finished second in the Chipiku Central Region Football League, Chatama’s boys struggled to break the deadlock as the visitors were solid at the back.
Bullets Reserves could have capitalized from uncharacteristic error by Kakanandezi Mtinkhuli in the 25th minute as the shot stopper failed to clear the ball away and landed straight at Billiat, who failed capitalize on the opportunity and won a corner.
Moments later, Clever Mkungula came to Bullets Reserves’ rescue with a brilliant save when the Mchinji-based side caught Kesten Simbi’s led defence off-guard in the defensive zone.
The middle of the first half was relatively a quiet affair, with Extreme FC growing into the game but without making any notable inroads.
The moment that Bullets Reserves were waiting for finally arrived in the 33rd minute when Yassin set up Franklin Mlimanjala, who turned between two defenders before he was brought down by Malick Julius in the six-yard box.
Billiat stepped up and slotted the ball past Mtinkhuli to give Bullets Reserves a deserved lead from the spot kick.
Bullets created another chance towards the end of the half through Demakude, but his attempt went out for a goal kick and that was all for the half to give The People’s Team a narrow lead at the break.
In the second half, Extreme FC brought in Gift Daniel and Mabvuto Chipolopolo for Aaron Sewere and Titus Soko to try and add some power upfront in search for an equalizer.
The opening minutes of the final period were characterized by flying tackles from the Mchinji side, but the referee failed to stamp out his authority as he missed some off the ball incidents to the disappointment of Chatama’s led technical panel.
A foul in the 55th minute handed Extreme FC an opportunity to pull level from a free kick, but Mkungula was alert enough to produce another save after the ball evaded the wall.
Bullets Reserves had a set-piece of their own three minutes later, but a well-struck shot from Frank Willard fizzed just inches over the crossbar.
Titani was then found unmarked by Billiat in the six-yard box but the winger saw his shot passing across the goalkeeper’s line when it looked easier to score than to miss.
Extreme FC introduced Francis Black and Limbani Kalumba for Maxwell Malikebu and Thoko Mwangata to improve their attacking prowess, but Simbi, White Kitiseni and Innocent Msowoya were just too solid at the back to frustrate the Mchinji-based side.
Bullets had a very good scoring opportunity in the 71st minute when Yassin played through Billiat, who was found in a one on one situation, but his decision to go for the kill backfired as he failed to put the ball into the back of the net in unbelievable circumstances.
Extreme made another change in the 73rd minute when they brought on Geoffrey Tika for Beston Jimu as Chatama maintained his hopes in his Bullets as the match had reached a boiling point.
Billiat had another best chance in the 76th minute when he shot wide from close range, failing to make full use of a defensive error.
Chatama made his first substitution when he introduced Chinong’one for Mlimanjala to try to improve his defense as the visitors were really pressing for an equalizer.
The last opportunity to Extreme FC fell to their danger man Promise Kamwendo in the 84th minute, however his goal bound strike was blocked by Simbi for a corner, which went straight into the hands of Man of the Match Mkungula.
Dan Matchipisa, who has joined the junior Bullets from Blantyre City, replaced Yassin in stoppage time but the midfielder was only on the pitch for a few minutes and after the final whistle, Bullets Reserves claimed the much-needed victory to sail through to the last four of the competition.
Speaking to the press, Chatama said Extreme FC gave them a ride for their money.
“It was a very difficult match where we controlled the first half but then fatigue took its toll on the boys, who were now struggling to play their normal game and we had to advise them to protect the lead and that’s exactly what happened.
“Playing without our regulars really disturbed our plans, but I had to advise the players to focus on the game and prove to us that they are also equally good to play in the absence of their colleagues and they delivered, that’s what matters,” said Chatama, whose side reached the quarter-finals after defeating St. Gabriel’s Medicals 2-1 at the same venue last month.