Johannesburg – Lucky Lekgwathi likes to refer to Orlando Stadium as the “slaughterhouse” and many teams have indeed met their metaphorical maker here during the Buccaneers’ trophy-laden run of the past couple of seasons.
However, when Pirates welcome SuperSport United this evening in the second leg of their MTN8 semifinal, their knives will need some sharpening.
The Buccaneers have managed just three goals in their four competitive fixtures this season, and none at all in two successive goalless draw with Matsatsantsa, one in the MTN8 last weekend, and the other in the Absa Premiership on Wednesday night.
Pirates can certainly point confidently to a return from Polokwane to Orlando this evening, a venue where they have already beaten Bloemfontein Celtic and Golden Arrows this season.
But Augusto Palacios’ side have yet to truly convince, and will almost certainly need to find an extra cutting edge, if they are to take down Gavin Hunt’s determined SuperSport.
SuperSport have also battled to breach the Buccaneers defence in their past few meetings, and with both sides well versed in the other’s ways, another tight encounter is on the cards. “It is tricky (playing them three times in six days),” said Pirates captain Lekgwathi this week.
“They have quality players and the experience of winning trophies. For us it is a matter of being mentally and physically fit now that we are playing at home, and to improve from the last game.”
Pirates do appear to have missed the pace in attack of Tokelo Rantie this season, with Collins Mbesuma unable to break the Matsatsantsa defence in his first start in mid-week, and Benni McCarthy also not quite yet up to last season’s standards.
“We will always miss him … but we have other guys to play in that position,” said Lekgwathi.
“The coaches are working hard to help the strikers score goals.”
McCarthy remains a doubt for Saturday’s game with a calf injury, but Palacios is likely to recall the likes of Daine Klate, Thulasizwe Mbuyane and Tlou Segolela to his starting line-up.
Pirates are also still without suspended Rooi Mahamutsa, sent off in the first leg. SuperSport will also miss a red-carded man from that game in midfielder Edwin Gyimah, while Rowen Fernandez will come in for Ronwen Williams, after the young SuperSport goalkeeper left the field with concussion on Wednesday night.
With the scores tied at 0-0, SuperSport right-back Davies Nkausu basically sees this second leg as starting from scratch.
“Pirates have home ground advantage, and we have the advantage of not having conceded (at home). It think this will be like a final in itself, like starting again.”
Nkausu also has faith that SuperSport can break their own scoring duck against the Buccaneers.
“You can’t just blame the strikers, when it comes to these games, I believe anyone on the field can score,” he said.
“Whoever the coach picks to start as a striker, he believes in them, and as a whole team we believe in each other.
“So I think come match time miracles might happen.”
On Sunday, Mamelodi Sundowns travel to Moroka Swallows for the second leg of their MTN8 semifinal, following a spectacular 3-3 draw in the first leg.
Sundowns’ defence has rather fallen apart in the past couple of games, as Johan Neeskens’ men slumped to defeat at Kaizer Chiefs on Wednesday night.
“We’ve been a bit disappointed with the way we’ve defended of late,” said goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands.
“We are working hard on that.
“It is important for a team like Sundowns to be playing in as many finals as we can. The team has gone a long time without winning anything so we are very hungry as players to try and win some silverware.” – Saturday Star