NEVER mind the drama at Barbourfields Stadium yesterday, Highlanders are back on top of the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League (PSL).
With two matches to go, the former champions, who face Harare City on Sunday at Rufaro Stadium, have 51 points, one ahead of Dynamos who dropped to second after a 1-1 draw against Shabanie Mine.
Harare City also drew 0-0 with Motor Action and are on 50 points.
Triangle, who would obviously complain after three red cards and 16 minutes of referee Bekezela Makeka’s optional time, shot themselves in the foot in a match they could easily have drawn, when they walked off the pitch.
They finished the match with eight players, without a coach and an injured player.
Limited Chikafa was sent off by Makeka for a second bookable offence in the 79th minute while goalkeeper Brighton Chipula got his marching orders for time wasting six minutes into added time.
The match was stopped for 16 minutes while Triangle coach Gishon Ntini and his charges protested the match official’s decision to send Chikafa off, who had been substituted for Richard Kawondera.
Makeka was forced to give Chipula a red card soon after he had indicated resumption of the match. The goalkeeper feigned injury and lay on the ground without even having kicked the ball — in an apparent delaying tactic.
The Triangle gaffer had to pull out Pasca Manhanga for second-choice goalkeeper Ashley Reyners.
Ntini was then also sent off for dissent on the fourth official, four minutes before the end of the match. Having exhausted all their substitutions Triangle could not replace an injured Chastern Ngondonga a few minutes before full time and had to play with seven men on the field.
Ozias Zibande grabbed the only goal of the match in the last minute of the match.
Triangle remained on position seven with 39 points from 28 games.
A fuming Ntini blamed his loss on match officiating.
“We were given eight yellow cards and three red cards, what for? He also added 15 minutes when they had shown six — that is being stupid. He should have just told us not to come than wasting our time. They should have just given Highlanders the three points.
“What delaying? We never delayed. How can you delay when a player is injured? Highlanders are not a special team. We had no reason to delay. We were frustrated by the referee. They will never win the league like this,” he said.
Highlanders coach Kelvin Kaindu was happy with the result although he was not impressed with the performance of the team.
“We played well, but we were not concentrating much. We created so many chances and we created so many corners, but if we are going to be a team we will call champions, we need a little bit of character. In terms of playing, I am not complaining about the character that the team showed. We could have done better than that.
“We created early chances, but we could not convert them and the finishing in the final third was poor. There was not much creativity in terms of movement in the box. The crosses that were coming in were all being met by the defenders apart from the last one we managed to score,” he said.
Zibande, who came in the 52nd minute, leapt higher than the Triangle defence beating Reyners from a Bhekimpilo Ncube pass. His cross had been set up by Milton Ncube in the last minute of the match.
The visitors could have gone one up in the 12th minute, but Denias Courage saw his effort go wide.
Four minutes later Highlanders midfielder Heritein Masuku hit the side net off a Gabriel Nyoni cross.
Nyoni was the chief culprit as he wasted a lot of chances. He shot over bar in the 24th minute after a cross from Bruce Kangwa.
The Highlanders striker again wasted another opportunity off a Kangwa cross as he again shot over bar.
Masuku got the better of two Triangle players before releasing a shot that was saved by Chipula in the 27th minute.
Denias saw his shot hit the crossbar two minutes into the second half as the visitors were searching for a goal before Masimba Mambare hit the side net two minutes later.
Highlanders: A Sibanda, I Mapuranga, E Mudzingwa, S Munawa, B Kangwa, M Maphosa, H Masuku (B Ncube 62min) P Moyo (M Ncube 69min), M Mambare, G Nyoni, M Masitara (O Zibande 52min)
Triangle: B Chipula red card (90min + 6min), B Juwayeyi (M Muneri 56min), N Togara, C Ngondonga, D Sengu, C Makoto, W Mukanga (W Mapfumo 62min), D Courage, P Manhanga (A Reyners 90min + 6min), M Mburayi, L Chikafa, (red card)