Moroka Swallows' Castle Premiership campaign got off to the worst possible start with a 3-2 home defeat by Santos at the Bidvest Stadium on Saturday.
Already presiding over a club decimated by injuries, Swallows coach Gavin Hunt will be without key players, Pitso Lekone and Greg Etafia after the pair were sent off in the second half of this absorbing clash.
Alfred Phiri grabbed a brilliant second-half brace, but the Swallows skipper's efforts were not enough to avert defeat as Thembile Kanono, Carlo Scott and Marawaan Bantam gave Roger de Sa a winning start to his Santos reign.
There was not much to choose between the two sides in the first half until Kanono gave the visitors the lead after 25 minutes.
A neat attacking move resulted in Lebogang Kukame attempting a shot on goal. The striker scuffed his effort, but Kanono had the presence of mind to latch onto the ball and drill past a hapless Etafia.
Despite being a goal down Swallows were by no means outplayed and might even have drawn level in the 36th minute were it not for a combination of ill fortune and some desperate defending by the visitors.
Dennis Lota saw his first-time effort come off Zvenyika Makonese's arm after the Zambian forward had connected with Peter Petersen's right wing cross, and from the melee that ensued Santos eventually cleared the danger.
Off-season acquisition Simba Marumo and Lota showed encouraging understanding for a new partnership, which hopefully will prove productive for the Dube Birds as the season progresses.
Swallows drew level 12 minutes after the restart when a corner-kick was knocked back into Phiri's path outside the box. The midfielder obliged with a well-taken shot with his weaker right foot, defeating a despairing Brendon Wardle.
However, seven minutes later Santos regained their lead after a blistering counter-attack which culminated in Kukame crossing for Bantam, who nodded into Scott's path for the striker to side-foot home.
To compound Swallows' woes, Lekone earned himself a deserved automatic red card for a dangerous tackle on the three-quarter mark, leaving the hosts chasing the game with ten men.
To their credit Swallows refused to let their heads drop and drew level courtesy of an excellent free-kick by their inspirational skipper Phiri, who curled his effort into the far post after 73 minutes.
But the lead lasted just two minutes, with Santos restoring their advantage from a set-piece of their own. The ball was touched to Bantam who let fly into the top corner, leaving Etafia grasping thin air.
Things went from bad to worse for Swallows when Etafia was given his marching orders with 10 minutes to play after the goalkeeper came out of his area and used his hands to block Kukame's attempted lob.
Innocent Chikoya was sacrificed for goalkeeper Conrad Hendricks but with a two-man disadvantage Swallows were always going to struggle up for the remainder of the match.
However, they were given cause for hope when they won a free-kick in a similar position from which Phiri had grabbed his second goal of the match.
But this time Wardle was equal to the challenge, diving well to his right to palm the ball out, and with the save secured Santos' first three points of the campaign.
By Lashias Ncube