FCB Nyasa Big Bullets have opened a one-point gap at the top of the TNM Super League standings following a 1-1 draw away to Red Lions at Balaka Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.
Patrick Mwaungulu broke the deadlock 10 minutes into the second half but Deus Mkutu cancelled our lead in the 75th minute.
Kalisto Pasuwa’s side had several players missing out of action due to injuries, but Lanjesi Nkhoma and Precious Sambani were back in the starting XI alongside Richard Chimbamba, who replaced the injured Rabson Chiyenda.
The People’s Team had several opportunities in the early minutes of the opening half, with Maxwell Phodo, Mwaungulu and Nkhoma all looking for an early goal.
Phodo’s first chance came just after 12 minutes when he was set through by Yankho Singo’s well-timed through ball, but the striker fired straight at Nenani Juwaya.
At the other end, Ferguson Mtondo almost broke the deadlock in the 18th minute when his first-time connection hit the upright before Yamikani Fodya cleared the ball away to safety as Deus Mkutu was ready to pounce from the rebound.
Moments later Bullets launched a counter-attack through Singo, who found Mwaungulu to the far right and the midfielder’s diagonal ball landed straight at Nkhoma, who produced a weaker shot that was easily saved by Juwaya, the busiest of the two shot-stoppers on the afternoon.
Juwaya was also called into action when he fumbled a dangerous cross from Singo. From the rebound, Gibson Nkhonjera conceded a corner kick, which was easily defended by Franco Ndawa’s side.
Bullets kept pushing to break the deadlock, with Phodo forcing Juwaya into making yet another save for a corner kick, which the visitors failed to capitalize.
Red Lions sat back to defend against a very ruthless side that was pressed from all angles, but finding the back of the net proved to be too difficult for Pasuwa’s men, who are favourites to retain the title.
With two minutes left in the opening period, Innocent Makalani replaced Kennedy Kachimanga for the hosts, and that was all for the half.
In the second half, Pasuwa brought in Hassan Kajoke and Stanley Billiat for Chawanangwa Gumbo and Phodo who both picked up knocks.
Immediately after his introduction, Billiat won two back-to-back corner kicks for Bullets, but Precious Sambani fired wide inside the penalty box when he created shooting space for himself.
Billiat was at it again, this time around, firing straight at Juwaya, who was unfazed by Bullets’ attacking threat inside his goal area.
Ten minutes into the final half, Bullets broke the deadlock.
Mwaungulu was a recipient of an excellent pass from Billiat, and the winger fired at goal, beating the defenceless Juwaya, 1-0 to the defending champions.
For the next ten minutes, it was Bullets all over the place, attacking from all angles and creating chance after chance, but they couldn’t add more to their name.
64 minutes on the clock, Kajoke won a freekick closer to the penalty box. Yamikani Fodya stepped up, unfortunately, the defender was denied by the far post.
Moments later, the visitors were left to regret as Mkutu levelled with a simple tap-in after Bullets’ defence failed to deal with a cross from the right, 1-1.
The People’s Team tried to push for a late winner and nearly got their wish inside the additional minutes when Kajoke was found unmarked, but with Juwaya already beaten, the striker missed the target when scoring seemed easier than missing and that was all, the spoils were shared in Balaka.
What it means
The draw means Pasuwa’s men still have an advantage in the title race. Now sitting top of the table with 55 points, the defending champions are a point clear of the second-placed Mighty Mukuru Wanderers and with two games in hand.
All Bullets need to do is to collect five points from the possible twelve, and their next assignment is on Sunday against Blue Eagles in Lilongwe.
As for Red Lions, they have kept their survival hopes alive, but they need to beat Moyale Barracks in the final match at all costs, and at the same time, hope for other positive results in their favor. They have 29 points from 29 games.