There was an eerie quiet about Nelspruit late on Saturday night, after Platinum Stars had stunned Orlando Pirates in yet another cup final.
The streets were empty and barely a single vuvuzela snorted in the wind. It was a far cry from earlier, as a party atmosphere enveloped Mbombela Stadium, most inside this giraffe-surrounded ground dancing in celebration. Lucky Lekgwathi’s ‘lucky’ offside goal seemed set to send Pirates, finally, to some silverware.
Then the magic feet of Mogakolodi Ngele intervened, and Platinum Stars confirmed the first half of this season as all their own. As Dikwena exploded in merriment, Pirates players slumped to the turf, unable to take it any more.
Roger de Sa stood in the dugout, shaking his head, and there must have been many fans in the stands doing exactly the same. Three cup finals, and not a trophy in sight.
For the Buccaneers, the question has to be: Where to now? De Sa admitted that he now faced a tough job to lift his players for the rest of the campaign. If, that is, the Buccaneers coach is in charge for the rest of the campaign.
To my mind, there is no way Pirates should dismiss De Sa. After all, he got them to a first African Champions League final since 1995, and, despite all this continental travel, to two domestic cup finals. There is plenty to be commended in this, even if all ended in defeat.
Whether Pirates chairman Irvin Khoza will see it the same way, however, is impossible to predict. Coaches at the Buccaneers have certainly gone before for far stranger reasons than losing a cup final treble.
Whoever does end up in charge faces a mountainous job to get Pirates up the league table. The backlog caused by their stint in African competition has left the Buccaneers bottom of the league, 16 points behind leaders Sundowns, with six games in hand.
If they can win all those matches, of course, Pirates will be top, but this seems unlikely. They are struggling seriously in their front line, a fact acknowledged by De Sa after Saturday’s defeat.
Lennox Bacela has been their leading man so far with 11 goals in 21 appearances in all competitions, but he is desperately hit-and-miss. Collins Mbesuma, meanwhile, is surely well past his best. Getting in a decent striker in the January transfer window has to be Pirates’ priority.
Aside from scoring problems, however, is the mental side of the game. This defeat has to have hit the players psychologically. A squad that already looks tired from their Champions League exploits probably cannot wait for Christmas. That is currently three league games away. The first of those? On Monday against nemesis Platinum Stars. - The Star