Relegation candidates Zulu Royals held Sundowns to a 1-1 draw at the King Zwelithini Stadium on Wednesday afternoon in an action-packed Castle Premiership encounter and barely kept their hopes of avoiding the drop alive.
Downs striker Daniel Mudau scored his 177th Premiership goal as early as the fifth minute and it seemed the visitors would coast past their relegation-dwelling opponents.
Sashi Chalwe played a defence-splitting pass to his captain, who calmly lofted the ball over advancing Royals keeper Gareth Ormshaw, who had no chance of denying the 35-year old the opening goal.
One-on-one duels took place throughout the midfield, but most notably where Downs right-wing Clement Mazibuko faced former Kaizer Chiefs winger Robson Muchichwa, who was marauding down the left flank for Usuthu.
Muchichwa and Mazibuko did not hold back on the skill and pace, though the former lacked more of it, as both midfielders attacked on every occasion to either increase the lead (Mazibuko) or to get an equaliser (Muchichwa).
The Castle Premiership league and Royals leading goal-scorer Jackie Ledwaba failed to connect cleanly with supplies coming from Muchichwa and John Maduka, but the former Ria Stars man was closely watched by Hilton Jordaan and Craig Bianchi.
Maduka came closest for the home team, but his first-time shot did not test Ronnie Kanalelo in the Downs goal.
The Brazilians went into the break only 1-0 up, despite having had the advantage in possession.
The three-time Castle Premiership champions did not waste time after the break as Siaka Tiene and Zambian Rotson Kilambe went forward with purpose.
Skipper Mudau assisted his younger teammates with off-the-ball running and passes that belied the veterans' age.
Royals, though, became dominant in their play with the introduction of Skapie Malatsi, who with the crowd behind him charged forward on every occasion to find an equaliser.
But the Chiefs youngster was his own enemy, turning on the skill - for the capacity crowd - needlessly when his team needed a goal desperately.
In the 70th minute Maduka went down in the penalty area from a seemingly harmless challenge by former Cosmos stalwart Jordaan.
The ref pointed to the penalty area for which the Downs skipper, Mudau, recieved a yellow card after a heated exchange with the official.
After consulting with the assistant referee the referee reversed his decision to the disappointment of the Royals bench.
Five minutes later Mudau received his marching orders for a robust - and needless - challenge on Muchichwa.
The 10-man Downs team went forward like men possessed and won a freekick on the edge of the area.
Tiene stepped up and curled the ball - at pace - goalwards, but Ormshaw was alert to the danger and pulled off a brilliant save, diving outstretched to his left side.
Royals went forward in numbers hoping to find the equaliser and again the referee pointed to the penalty area after he judged a Downs defender to have handled the ball while in the 18-yard area.
Mkhize, with the expectation in the crowd almost tangible, blasted the ball past Kanalelo in the 81st minute to send the Usuthu fans into jubilation.
The hosts could not make use of their numerical advantage in the remaining nine minutes, despite continued pressure.
Sundowns remain 10th on the Castle Premiership table while Royals, with only five games left to play, are firmly rooted to the basement and seemingly destined to return to the first division.