Free State Stars were relegated on the final day of the Premiership campaign after battling all the way to the final whistle in a 1-0 defeat to league champions Sundowns.
As expected the match proved to be a tense affair, with both sides desperate to claim all three points on the day.
Stars needed a win to ensure their league safety, while Downs went into the encounter knowing that a win would see them finish the campaign as outright winners, regardless of second-placed Pirates’ result in their clash with Polokwane.
The first half provided plenty of action, with both sides going at it hammer and tongs, although Sundowns put Stars under immense pressure in the opening half.
Ea Lla Koto defended bravely and after weathering the storm, they went close to grabbing the lead through efforts from Harris Tchilimbou, Sibusiso Hlubi and Relebogile Mokhuoane.
However, it was the visitors who got the all-important breakthrough in the 43rd minute as substitute Phakamani Mahlambi slotted home with an angled shot in the box after Stars’ defence failed to clear the danger.
And the goal proved to be pivotal as Stars were forced to chase the game after the half-time break, allowing Downs to soak up the pressure and hit them on the break.
Stars redoubled their efforts as they went in search of an equaliser, before potentially looking to net a crucial match-winner, but apart from Sibusiso Hlubi’s disallowed goal on the hour mark, they were unable to get the best of an impressive Denis Onyango in the Sundowns goal.
The result means Stars are relegated in heartbreaking fashion, suffering automatic relegation on goal difference, with Maritzburg United’s 1-1 draw against Baroka lifting them off the foot of the table and into the promotion/relegation play-offs.
Club management, coach Nikola Kavazovic and his players will now head for the off-season break before preparing for life in the National First Division.