Nyasa Big Bullets needed a penalty shoot-out to win their first Airtel Top 8 Cup following a 5-3 victory over Silver Strikers in a thrilling final played at Kamuzu Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
In front of thousands of their fans, Bullets showed up and were slightly above their opponents in terms of pressing, but their failure to convert chances into goals kept the Central Bankers into the game.
Bullets went into the game without top goal scorer, Babatunde Adepoju, due to suspension after accumulating two yellow cards in the quarter and semifinal stages of the competition.
The game, which ended 1-1 in regulation time, was a close one and there is no doubt more goals would have been scored especially by the home side that created plenty of chances in the first half.
Stain Davie gave the Central Bankers an early lead in 9th minute when he headed home Frank Banda’s cross from the left flank to beat Ernest Kakhobwe in goal, 0-1.
Bullets showed their fighting spirit when they dominated possession and outplayed the visitors in their defensive zone before Lanjesi Nkhoma probed Silver’s defence before slotting a powerful shot past Charles Thom in goal, 1-1.
Kalisto Pasuwa’s men signaled their intent to attack and they nearly went up in the 26th minute when Nkhoma did his magic before sending a dangerous ball into the box to find Chiukepo Msowoya, unfortunately the forward failed to connect past Thom, who was quick to snatch the ball.
At the other end, the Area 47 side made it known that they would not offer Bullets too much respect as they too employed positive tactics.
A burst from Zebron Kalima saw him play Blessings Tembo, who shot wide from close range.
With 10 minutes left to play, Bullets had another clear cut chance when a cross from Alick Lungu found Msowoya in the six-yard box, but the striker saw his effort just missing the upright with an inch for a goal kick.
Bullets had another chance towards the end of the half when Nkhoma outplayed Mike Robert before sending a very dangerous cross into the box to Msowoya, who was undecided as he failed to head the ball into an empty net with Thom already beaten in the line of duty.
After the recess, Pasuwa made a double substitution when he brought in Zicco Mkanda and Eric Kaonga for Msowoya and Lungu, whilst Innocent Shema replaced Robert for the visitors.
Unlike the first half, both teams slowed down and chances were very few, but it was Bullets who did more pressing in search of another goal in front of the packed Kamuzu Stadium.
In the 52nd minute, Mkanda won a free kick in the offensive half and when he stepped up his effort was well saved by Thom for a corner.
There was a penalty shout from Bullets in the 55th minute when Maxwell Paipi was judged to have handled the ball from a corner kick taken by Kaonga.
The Bankers introduced Chikondi Kamanga for Taonga Chimodzi whilst Pasuwa brought in Precious Phiri for Hassan Kajoke to try to add some firepower upfront.
Silver produced a stunning counter-attack in the 70th minute through Kalima and Tembo to release Davie upfront, but Kakhobwe was equal to the task with a brilliant save for a corner, which was easily dealt with by Gomezgani Chirwa.
Tembo and Patrick Macheso were then replaced by Levison Maganizo and Maxwell Phodo to try to win back the midfield battle, which was mostly dominated by Henry Kabichi and Chimwemwe Idana.
Shortly afterward, Kakhobwe was forced into another eye-catching save when he denied Banda from scoring outside the penalty box.
Kabichi was then called into action with a brilliant block to deny Banda from scoring as his goal-bound shot in the 80th minute almost punished the home team.
Bullets made another change in the 89th minute when Yamikani Fodya replaced Petro, a sign that Pasuwa was now preparing for a shoot-out.
However, Bullets almost snatched a late victory in the additional minutes when Phiri’s shot from 30 yards caught Thom napping in the line of duty before hitting the upright for a goal kick to the Central Bankers.
In the final minute of stoppage time, Phiri was at it again, this time around producing a powerful header which was well saved by Thom for a corner and despite the late pressure from Bullets, Silver Strikers held on to take the game into the penalties.
In the shoot-out, Fodya, Mkanda, Idana, Chirwa and Nickson Nyasulu converted their spot kicks, while Banda, Davie and Shema scored for Silver Strikers as Maganizo was denied from the spot by Kakhobwe to hand The People’s Team a 5-3 victory.
The Airtel Top 8 Cup means Bullets finally ended their Cup drought since 2017 and it becomes a double for Pasuwa this season after lifting the 2020-21 TNM Super League championship, the third in three years after becoming The People’s Team’s head coach in 2018.
Lanjesi Nkhoma, a Nyasa Big Bullets Reserves graduate, was voted Man of the Match as Babatunde, despite missing the final, finished as top goal scorer with eight goals.