NWU Grab Semifinal Spot
A Thapelo Tlabakwe hat-trick ensured NWU-Mafikeng booked their place in the 2016 Varsity Football playoffs with a 3-1 victory over Wits in Johannesburg on Thursday to sneak into fourth place on the final log standings.
The victory ensured they knocked two-time champions UP-Tuks out of the running and will travel now to Pretoria to face top-placed TUT, while the other semifinal will be between second-placed CUT and third-placed UJ in Bloemfontein.
Both semifinals will take place on Thursday, September 8.
NWU-Mafikeng took the lead in the sixth minute when a low, hard Mogomotsi Molefe cross found Tlabakwe, who got ahead of his defender to guide the ball past Brylon Petersen. NWU continued to use their speedy midfielders to good use, despite them not being able to extend their lead.
Wits seemed happy to launch counter-attacks by finding the lanky Graeme Dor and working off him, however, the visitors were able to snuff out the attacks. Both sides had chances to add to the scoreboard but Wits' Kaizer Maphanga and NWU's Vusimuzi Ludwala saw their attempts fly over the crossbar.
The home side finished the half strong though as Mahle Mtabane had a free-kick saved by NWU goalkeeper Amogelang Moduo in the 41st minute. Their best chance came in the 45th minute when Johar Gilbert found himself with no-one in front of him but his shot was well saved by a covering defender.
Wits drew level within 10 minutes of the restart when a bursting run down the right flank by Lyndon Crouch saw him deliver a low cross and Gilbert was on hand to toe-poke the ball into the net, making u for his earlier miss.
The tackles started getting harder from that point as the referee was forced to dig into his pocket. NWU could have regained the lead in the 75th minute but Petersen was on hand to punch the shot from distance away.
NWU were not going to be denied though as Tlabakwe was put through in the 83rd minute. The striker's first touch set him up brilliantly to fire a shot that beat Petersen on his near post. Tlabakwe's hat-trick came in similar fashion in the 89th minute, although questions will be asked of the goal keeping.
That proved to be the final nail in Wits' coffin, who finished the competition in seventh place having claimed just one victory in their seven matches.