For Coach Wesley Mondo and his Nico United charges, the plan against Gaborone United (GU) was simple, ‘don’t concede a goal.’ And the plan worked, at least for the entire duration of the first half. In a first half played under the sweltering sun, both teams failed to light up the encounter. Against a very mobile front line that featured speedy players like Mandla Mgadla, Kgololo Kgogobi, Tebogo Sembowa and Benson Shilongo, it was the Nico United midfield duo of Richard Legwaila and Nelson Moreetsi that stood out. Assisted by a resolute defence at the back, the two Nico midfielders starved their opponents of creativity and any meaningful penetration at the back as the Gaborone outfit huffed and puffed but failed to break a resolute Nico United.
In what was by all means a very slow and drab start not deserving of a Top 8 semi final, it was GU’s goalkeeper Goitseone Phoko who was called to make a first save of the match when he easily collected Khumoetsile Kufigwa’s attempt at goal. From then on, it was GU who looked the likeliest to score, with Sembowa shooting tamely at Nico keeper Edwin Mokibe before Mandla Mgadla’s ambitious long range shot flew over the bar a few moments later. With chances far in between, the next chance fell to GU’s on loan midfielder Ofentse Nato but his header went over the bar.
Nico should have scored a few moments later when livewire winger Mogomotsi Samson fed in Kufigwa but goalkeeper Phoko was alert to deny him. The youngster, who was having a good day in between the GU goalposts, would then go on to deny Kufigwa yet again on the last minute of the first half, as he stuck out his feet to rob the Nico United player a breakthrough goal and ensure both teams go into recess goalless. Having witnessed his side’s lack of creativity in the middle of the park, GU Coach, Rahman Gumbo sent Ntesang Simanyana into the fray to give his team a spark.
It was however Nico who had the first chances in the opening minutes of the second half but Shabby Nsongamali and Christopher Musonda missed free headers. It was then GU who went in search of a goal as Kgogobi’s shot fizzled past the upright. The Gaborone outfit didn’t have to wait long to find their opener as Shilongo outmuscled the Nico defence and cut back an inviting pass which Sembowa’s buried into the bottom right to give GU a one goal lead. With his defence now breached and chasing the game, Coach Mondo reeled off the misfiring duo of Shabby and Musonda and sent in Onkabetse Makgantai and Melvern Moyo to find an equaliser. It was however GU who netted an insurance goal as Shilongo headed in from Kgogobi’s headed assist. This was to be Kgogobi’s last contribution as he was immediately replaced with Ronald Chikomo.
From then on, it was Nico who went in search of a goal as they put GU under pressure but were time and again denied by the brilliance of Phoko in between the GU sticks. In a well deserved man of the match performance showing, the youngster saved a well taken set piece by Kufigwa before denying Samson. There was however nothing he could do a few moments later as Makgantai’s curled a consolation goal into the net after showing veteran defender Gaopatwe Seosenyeng a pair of clean heels. Makgantai nearly got an equaliser a few minutes later when he breached the GU defence once again but his shot went agonisingly wide.
It was however too little too late for Nico who would now be hoping that their one away goal does them good when the two teams meet again in the second and last leg of their encounter at Phikwe in a fortnight, something which was echoed by their coach. Speaking in a post match interview, Mondo said the team will be aiming for a win when they host GU in the return leg. The Nico mentor promised an all out attacking match when the two sides meet in a fortnight. For his part, GU coach, Gumbo, promised his outfit will go to Phikwe seeking nothing but a win. The GU mentor said his plan for the return leg in Phikwe will be to go in an all out attack not to sit back and defend.