Nyasa Big Bullets maintained the unbeaten home record this campaign with a 2-0 victory over Chitipa United at Kamuzu Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The win sees The People’s Team maintaining the three-point lead at the top of the TNM Super League standings.
Pasuwa’s men however had to do it the hard way as striker Hassan Kajoke, who netted Bullets’ opening goal early in the first period, was sent off in the 64th minute.
Pasuwa made three changes to the side that beat Red Lions on Thursday by handing starts to Eric Kaonga, Meshack Seleman and Ernest Petro for McFallen Mgwira, Paul Kansungwi and Yamikani Fodya.
The visitors were a better side in the opening minutes when they registered shots at goal through Happy Ng’andu, Muhammad Byson and Emmanuel Muyira, but Richard Chimbamba was outstanding when he made some good saves to deny them from taking a lead.
However, it was Bullets who took a lead just after seven minutes of the opening half. A fantastic cross from Kaonga caught the visitors’ defence napping and landed straight in the path of Kajoke, who made a brilliant finish to beat George Chikoka in goals for Chitipa United, 1-0.
The lead should have only lasted a few minutes when Chimbamba made a mistake inside the six-yard box as he tried to dribble past Byson, but the visitors were lucky as the forward failed to capitalize on the error.
Chitipa were in total control of the match and they should have equalized in the 19th minute when N’gandu was found in a one on one situation with Chimbamba but was denied by the Bullets ‘keeper who covered his near post very well.
At the other end, Bullets continued pushing for another goal but Kajoke was denied by the opposition goalkeeper when he had a chance to register his second goal of the day after being set by Seleman.
But Chikoka could not do anything in the 41st minute when Chiukepo Msowoya extended the home team’s lead when he connected home Gomezgani Chirwa’s beautiful pass into the box to make it 2-0.
Two should have turned into three when Msowoya brilliantly made a good run into the box to set through Petro, who was one on one with Chikoka, only for the midfielder to shoot over the cross bar when the goal was wide open and Bullets went into the break leading 2-0.
In the second half, Bullets started brightly through vice-captain and Man of the Match, Chimwemwe Idana, who was bossing the midfield, but to add another goal proved too difficult for Pasuwa’s men.
It was Chitipa United who caught Bullets on a counter, but Byson was slow to react allowing Gabeya to intervene for the home team.
In the 56th minute, a brilliant move from Chirwa to Msowoya almost finished Chitipa United but the forward’s effort was well saved by Chikoka.
In the 58th minute, Matthews Sibale replaced Gule Mwayitsope for the visitors to try to strengthen their attacking options.
Chikoka was at it again in the 61st minute, this time around denying Idana a goal outside the penalty box with a good save.
Bullets were dealt with a massive blow in the 64th minute when Kajoke was sent off by referee Zebron Lengani.
A fantastic cross from Seleman into the box saw both Kajoke and Chikoka leaving the force of gravity, but it was the goalkeeper who had landed badly and medical help was called onto the field to attend to the ‘keeper.
Surprisingly, minutes later Lengani called Kajoke, who had moved to the centre circle to join the rest of the Bullets squad and flashed a straight red card for The People’s Team to finish the game with ten men.
This affected Bullets as the home team was forced slowdown in attack in order to protect the lead, probably to avoid a repeat of what happened last season when they surrendered a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 against the same opponents at the same venue.
In the 68th minute, Muyira had his long range shot well saved by Chimbamba, with Bullets now playing too deep and under pressure.
Sensing danger, Pasuwa had to make four changes in order to defend their lead as the clock was ticking against The People’s Team.
Bright Munthali, Precious Phiri, Blessings Mpokera and Zicco Mkanda all came in for Kayira, Petro, Msowoya and Seleman.
It was Mkanda who came closer to scoring when his shot was saved by substitute goalkeeper Wells Silavwe for a corner.
In the other half, the visitors kept on probing, eager to cause another upset by scoring late goals, but all in vain and after 97 minutes of action, Bullets stood firm to collect important points in the quest for another title defence.
Speaking in a post-match interview, Pasuwa, who predicted a tough match against Chitipa prior to the match, said at this stage of the season only points matter.
“At this stage of the league, we don’t know how points will come. We just told the boys to focus on getting them because we needed them most. At the end of the day collecting three points will matter more than the style of play, but not so bad from the boys especially in the second half where they played better.”
On how the red card affected his charges, the tactician had this to say:
“Not much difference to see because even us we were able to be in possession of the ball despite playing one man down. I honestly think the red card was harsh to the boy because it was a collision, both the players were running for the ball and unfortunately, one got injured in the process and a red card was flashed, but that’s football, it happens”.
Bullets will take a two-week break from the elite league as they will be preparing for the CAF Champions League First Leg match against Amazulu FC away in South Africa and Pasuwa believes it will give them enough space to recover from a hectic three-week period where eleven matches have been played.
Said the coach: “The boys have been playing football and I am very afraid of the [stand-in] captain of the team [Chimwemwe Idana] who has been playing games since COSAFA Cup without a proper rest, he is still playing [and] when others are resting for two weeks he will be involved with the national team and CAF games. We need to do something in order to manage him so that we can have fresh legs when we play Amazulu in two weeks’ time.”
Bullets have so far collected 55 points from 26 games, three above second-placed Silver Strikers, who have the same number of games played following their 7-0 win over Mzuzu Warriors at Silver Stadium on Sunday.