FCB Nyasa Big Bullets moved to within three points of TNM Super League leaders Mighty Mukuru Wanderers after collecting a point following a hard-fought 1-1 draw away to Ekwendeni Hammers at Rumphi Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Isaac Msiska broke the deadlock for the hosts in the 40th minute before Lanjesi Nkhoma replied five minutes later to equalize for The People’s Team.
Straight from the 2-0 triumph over Civil Service United in the Airtel Top 8 Cup quarterfinal first leg at Civo Stadium, Kalisto Pasuwa made seven changes to Wednesday’s starting line-up.
Clyde Senaji, Yamikani Fodya, Gomezgani Chirwa, Frank Willard, Patrick Mwaungulu, Lanjesi Nkhoma, and Hassan Kajoke returned to the first XI as they replaced Precious Phiri, Collins Okumu, Anthony Mfune, Nickson Nyasulu, Blessings Mpokera, McFallen Mgwira and Stanley Billiat.
As expected on the afternoon, Bullets had two things to deal with; the persistent wind and the bumpy dry pitch, a situation that made it impossible for the free-flowing passing team to play their usual game.
It was a game of few chances, denying the spectators an opportunity to watch a beautiful game at Rumphi Stadium.
The visitors created their first opportunity from Patrick Mwaungulu’s well-taken corner kick, but Maxwell Phodo’s free header inside the six-yard box went off target.
For the opening 30 minutes, no attempt at the goal was registered by the two teams as there was just too much wind blowing over the pitch, forcing the two teams to use secondary balls.
It was Bullets who felt the negative side of the weather as, despite using long balls, failed to adapt to the new option, with every long ball landing at Micah Chiyenda or going out of the field for a goal kick.
However, lady luck almost smiled at the hosts when Senaji lost the ball to Sammy Phiri closer to Bullets’ penalty box but the winger, in a one-on-one situation, was denied by Rabson Chiyenda’s excellent save before an intervention from Eric Kaonga.
Ekwendeni were able to break the deadlock with five minutes left to play in the opening half through Msiska, who tapped in from Blessings Singini’s delivery from a freekick on the right flank, 1-0.
But the lead was cut short at the stroke of 45 minutes when Chisomo Banda gave away the ball to Nkhoma, who made no mistake by firing at goal to beat Chiyenda in the line of duty, 1-1. And that was all for the half.
After the recess, Pasuwa brought in Ephraim Kondowe and Mpokera for Kajoke and Nkhoma as he looked to add more energy, especially in the middle of the field where Bullets were second on the ball.
The coming in of Mpokera brought stability in the midfield, but it was similar to the opening half as the players were hugely disturbed by the winds and couldn’t pass the ball around to create spaces and scoring chances.
The hosts’ shot-stopper was called into action in the 54th minute to deny Kaonga from finding the back of the net with his long-range effort.
Moments later, the goalkeeper was also tested by Chawanangwa Gumbo, who created space for himself before opening fire but the midfielder, playing against his former team, was denied by Chiyenda’s save to keep his team into the game.
Ekwendeni replaced Msiska for Isaiah Nyirenda and the home side should have buried Bullets with some clear-cut chances from set pieces. Whenever they had a corner kick, they forced our ‘keeper to make important saves or our defenders to commit more serious mistakes at the back.
Sensing danger, Pasuwa brought in Mgwira and Anthony Mfune for Mwaungulu and Phodo, with Samson Chiona replacing Samuel Adebiyi Adeyemi for the hosts.
Kondowe saw his weaker effort cleared by Chisomo Sambani before crossing the line when the goalkeeper was caught napping in aerial combat from Willard’s cross into the box.
With 78 minutes played, the visiting goalkeeper produced a stunning save to deny Singini from scoring from a freekick.
At this particular moment, the visitors were under siege as the winds blew very much to the advantage of Hammers who pushed everyone forward to force a goal that would have come through committing mistakes.
Three back-to-back corner kicks saw Rabson saving Bullets with excellent saves, but the highlight of his day was when he produced a brilliant save to deny Phiri from scoring what could have been a winning goal for the hosts when the winger fired at goal from yet another dangerous set piece from Singini.
Precious Sambani came on for Gumbo towards the final minutes but the substitution had no impact despite having an attempt in which he blasted wide.
Kaonga’s volley almost punished his former team but Hammers survived from the jaws of defeat as the ball swerved wide off Micah’s goal mouth and, in the end, 1-1 was the final scoreline.
What it means
The result sees the defending champions, who now have 44 points from 21 games, cutting the gap to just three points with three more games in hand to play over rivals Wanderers, who are top of the standings with 47 points from 24 games.
As for Hammers, the valuable point gained sees them opening a five-point lead over Civil Service United who are third from the bottom, but the Mzuzu-based side has played two more games than the Servants.
Pasuwa’s charges will remain in the North for another tricky TNM Super League fixture against Moyale Barracks at the same venue on Tuesday, before returning to Blantyre for another league assignment against Chitipa United at the weekend.