Our unbeaten run this season came to an end with a 1-0 defeat to Chitipa United in the TNM Super League at Karonga Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Bullets were unbeaten after seven games in the 2023 campaign, winning five and drawing twice before facing the Northern Region outfit.
It is also the first loss for The People’s Team against Chitipa since their on-and-off stay in the league.
Kalisto Pasuwa made three changes to the side that defeated Red Lions last week, with midfielder Mike Mkwate returning to the first eleven after recovering from a viral infection, Anthony Mfune replaced Lanjesi Nkhoma and Blessings Mpokera replacing Gomezgani Chirwa, who missed the trip due to illness.
It was a match under heavy winds that disturbed the flow of the game, with both sides looking to get an early goal to settle into the encounter.
The hosts, who were motivated by their 1-0 away win to Bullets’ rivals Mighty Mukuru Wanderers last week, started well, controlling the game in the opening stages, Kenson Mlenga had the first opportunity to test Richard Chimbamba, but was let down as his weaker shot was easily stopped by the shot-stopper.
Chances were very few as the wind made it very difficult for both teams to create meaningful chances, and secondary balls were the order of the day.
Blessings Mpokera came to Bullets’ rescue 21 minutes into the game when he made a timely clearance from Ghedo Lorenzo’s dangerous cross into the box, which almost found Mlenga unmarked inside the six-yard box.
Bullets had their first clear-cut chance in the 36th minute when Ernest Petro released Maxwell Phodo to the right, and the striker found himself in a one-on-one situation with goalkeeper George Chikooka, who won the contest with a brilliant save.
The two teams went to the recess at 0-0.
In the second half, Bullets started brightly as we tried to play our usual passing game, but nothing was materializing as the dry pitch and the winds became a stumbling block.
The hosts seemed to have mastered the art of playing under such conditions as they pressed from all angles in search of the opening goal.
After a sequence of counterattacks led by Rajab Nyirenda, Bullets’ Clyde Senaji rose to the occasion with more timely clearances to frustrate the very dominant hosts.
It was a bright start full of intent and ambition from MacDonald Mtetemera’s charges, racing into Bullets’ half off the back of their counter-pressing, though they couldn’t fashion a chance as the visitors’ backline regained possession in the defensive area.
The hosts were finally able to break the deadlock a minute before the hour mark in a similar way they did a week ago at Kamuzu Stadium against the Nomads.
Nyirenda’s dangerous freekick from Bullets’ defensive left flank was connected into the net by our defender Collins Okumu, 1-0.
Pasuwa then made three changes when he brought in Yamikani Fodya, Nkhoma and Kajoke for Frank Willard who was cautioned in the opening period, Mfune as well as Phodo to try to push for an equalizer.
Nyirenda had another opportunity to double his side’s lead when he produced a ferocious shot outside the penalty box only to be denied by Chimbamba for a corner kick, which was easily defended by the visitors.
Bullets kept on pushing for the equalizer, but Chitipa’s defensive duo of Chris Lwemba and Lamson Lukali did a very good job as they closed down all the spaces for the visitors to create scoring chances.
Lwemba nearly found the back of the net in the 68th minute when his long-range freekick was well saved by Chimbamba, who was the busiest of the two goalkeepers.
With 20 minutes left to play, Pasuwa brought in McFallen Mgwira and Chawanangwa Gumbo for Mkwate and Mwaungulu to improve his attacking prowess.
Mgwira almost equalized in the 74th minute when he was at the receiving end of Nkhoma’s pass but his goal-bound shot was blocked by Lwemba for a corner kick, which the home side easily dealt with.
The clock was ticking very fast for Pasuwa’s charges as he threw everything up front to get the equalizing goal, but the hosts never opened up and defended with maturity to safeguard their slender lead.
A freekick by Fodya outside the penalty box in the 84th minute missed Chikooka’s goal post with an inch.
Bullets had the final chance in the 88th minute when Kajoke was found unmarked by Mgwira, but the forward was late to make a decision and allowed Lwemba to make another important clearance for the hosts.
Bullets were in search of an equalizer, however, there was less fortune for the defending champions as the referee Newton Nyirenda blew his final whistle to mark the end of the match after multiple attempts by the visitors to share the spoils.
The defeat means the defending champions are still topping the standings with 17 points from eight games, but this will depend on Silver Strikers’ result away to Kamuzu Barracks on Sunday.
The Central Bankers are second on the table with 15 points from seven games.
Pasuwa’s charges will return to Blantyre to regroup for Saturday’s match against Ekwendeni Hammers at Kamuzu Stadium.