Nyasa Big Bullets got back to winning ways following a 1-0 victory over Red Lions in Thursday’s TNM Super League fixture at Mpira Stadium.
The People’s Team went into the game on the back foot after a three match winless streak, with a defeat to Silver Strikers in the FDH Cup quarter-final, a 1-0 loss away to Moyale Barracks and a 0-0 with relegation bound Mzuzu Warriors.
Red Lions, who were coming from a 2-0 victory over Civil Sporting Club, were hoping to take advantage of the situation, but Kalisto Pasuwa’s men were able to recover in time to bag maximum points and open a three-point gap at the top of the standings against Silver.
On Thursady Pasuwa made two changes to the side that drew 0-0 against Mzuzu Warriors on Sunday when he handed starts to Paul Kansungwi and Chiukepo Msowoya for Ernest Petro and Zicco Mkanda.
It was a game of few chances as it was more physical coupled with more stoppages than expected.
Red Lions got their first opportunity in the 18th minute through a well taken corner kick, which was well dealt with by Richard Chimbamba.
At the other end, Bullets were awarded a free kick in the 28th minute when James Mwetse fouled Gomezgani Chirwa, but McFallen Mgwira stepped up only to drive his effort over the crossbar.
Bullets had another chance in the 34th minute when a long ball from Chimango Kayira caught the hosts’ defense napping in the line of duty and landed straight at Kajoke who should have just tapped in past Jacob Kaunda, but the forward failed to control the ball and it went out for a goal kick.
Despite the intense midfield battle between Chikoti Chirwa and Idana, the two teams could not find the breakthrough as they went to recess goalless.
Pasuwa and Alick Chirwa had to make double substitutes before the start of the final period, with Pilirani Thulu and Tatenda M’balaka coming in for McPeter Makwale and James Chirwa, whilst Mgwira and Kansungwi paved the way for Meshack Seleman and Bright Munthali.
Bullets’ changes made Red Lions to start chasing the game as Seleman, Idana, Munthali and Msowoya all pressing in search of the much needed goal.
However, the visitors nearly conceded in the 48th minute when the Zomba based soldiers caught them on the counter, but Royal Bokosi was too slow to respond as he was dispossessed by Miracle Gabeya for a corner kick, which had no impact as the ball landed in the hands of Chimbamba.
Moses Nankumba replaced Henry Kamunga to try to increase their attacking options.
Bullets nearly broke the deadlock in the 53rd minute when referee Alfred Kaphamtengo awarded The People’s Team a free kick on the edge of the penalty box following a foul in Seleman, however Idana’s promising setpiece was tipped over the bar by Kaunda.
The opening fifteen minutes belonged to the visitors who were attacking from all cylinders but Red Lions’ defense led by Gibson Nkhonjera stood firm to frustrate Pasuwa’s men who were desperate for a win.
Bullets had another free kick in the attacking third but the visitors were left hopeless as Yamikani Fodya blasted his effort over the bar for a goal kick.
As the clock was ticking fast for Bullets, Red Lions regrouped and started taking the game away to Bullets through Chirwa, who was now bossing the midfield against tired legs of Idana and Kayira.
A long range effort from Nankumba missed Chimbamba’s goal post with an inch before Fodya’s intervention to block Thuli’s cross for a corner kick minutes later.
Bullets then launched a counter-hurricane attack from the left flank where Seleman was operating from and the winger combined well with Idana to release Kajoke who made his way into the box only to be brought down on the break for a penalty.
The Bullets no.9 stepped up to the plate and beat Kaunda from the spot to score his 11th league goal of the current campaign.
The lead should have lasted for less than three minutes as Bokosi thought he had leveled only to be ruled out by first assistant referee Pondamali Tembo, whose flag had already gone up for offside.
Sensing danger, Pasuwa brought on Blessings Mpokera and Precious Phiri for Chirwa and Kajoke to try to defend their only goal.
Red Lions made their final changes in the 80th minute when Mathews Simbeyi and Mathews Boloweza replaced Brown Gondwe and Humphreys Minandi.
The hosts almost equalized in the 88th minute when M’balaka overpowered Gabeya to the right flank before sending a million dollar cross, which was intelligently cleared by Man of the Match Nickson Nyasulu for a corner.
Red Lions pushed harder for an equalizer but Bullets defended everything to collect maximum points and open up a three-point lead over the Central Bankers with five games to go.
In a post-match interview, Pasuwa admitted that the play was not convincing but he was glad that three points were collected at the end of such a difficult match.
“The play wasn’t that perfect but we just wanted a win in order to regain our confidence. We knew that the match would be difficult because our opponents play more physical game and we had to talk to the boys to keep on fighting and fortunately we got the result that we wanted.”
The tactician was also quick to point out that fatigue started taking toll on his players, hence making substitutions to try to balance up.
“Fatigue is still there and you saw how Gomezgani and Idana, who have speed, were down due to tired legs. These guys have been playing games throughout, but we have no choice but to adapt to the congested fixtures that are there.”
At 52 points from 25 games, Bullets host Chitipa United at Kamuzu Stadium on Sunday.