A second half equaliser from Siyanda Xulu, after Gaston Sirino had opened the scoring for Mamelodi Sundowns just before the interval in Saturday night’s Absa Premiership clash at the Lucas Moripe Stadium, had seemingly set the Team of Choice on track for a draw with the star-studded defending league champions.
But it wasn’t to be as Lyle Lakay struck an injury time winner for the Tshwane club, leaving Maritzburg to return home empty handed.
Although the hosts did have the better of the chances on the night, United could well have come away with what would have been an invaluable point, which is what upset coach Eric.
“We need to listen to instructions, and because of that, we’re getting punished,” he said.
“First half, yes we created one or two situations, [Sundowns keeper, Denis] Onyango had to make one save that I can remember.
“But we got hit on the counter-attack, four, five times, we got hit from our own corners, our own throw-ins.
“A team like Sundowns, the quality they have, if you allow them to play through the middle, they’re going to hurt you. And we allowed them to in the first half - way too many mistakes defensively.
“And as I said, you’re playing against a wounded lion (after Sundowns’ loss to SuperSport United in the MTN8 earlier in the week)…you’ve got to match them for effort, you’ve got to match them in terms of your work ethic.
“Defensively you have got to be solid, they will capitalise on mistakes you make. In the first half we could have been two down, to be brutally honest.”
Coach Eric felt that there was an improvement from his charges after half time, although that made the late winner even harder to stomach.
“We responded well in the second half, got ourselves back into the game and then I don’t think they really caused us much problems from then on.
“It’s disappointing, you can’t back off – there’s two minutes left, we could have left here with a very, very valuable point against a very, very good team - and you let yourself down, all that hard work put in during the second half, you’ve let yourself down in the final minute and that’s the disappointment, because that’s exactly what we discussed at half time.
“The players need to start listening and learning, and stop making mistakes, because mistakes end up being costly.
“I said to the players you’ve got to show character. Because first half we didn’t show character, we looked like we were afraid of them. Players need to take responsibility, and respond in the correct manner.
“Our performance in the second half probably deserved a point, but not in the first half.”
The Team of Choice now have the opportunity to set things right as they prepare for back-to-back home matches – against Chippa United and Baroka FC on 27 September and 2 October respectively.