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Johannesburg – Stuart Baxter would not call it a championship decider, but Roger de Sa conceded a victory is “almost a must” in Saturday’ Soweto Derby if Orlando Pirates are not to surrender their Absa Premiership title to their bitterest rivals Kaizer Chiefs come May.
Baxter, the Chiefs coach, was predictably reluctant to fall into the trap of championing his charges as favourites, given that they go into Saturday’s match (Soccer City, 3.30pm) with a five-point advantage of Pirates.
A win would extend that lead to an even healthier eight points, although the Buccaneers have a game in hand.
“It would give us a massive momentum, if we were to go eight points clear. It would be great,” Baxter said at the pre-derby press conference in Midrand.
For Pirates, the situation has become desperate after they picked up just one point from their last two games.
“We haven’t done too badly,” De Sa, the Bucs coach, said. “We have been quite unfortunate in the last two games. We were 2-0 ahead of Moroka Swallows and lost that game. We were leading right up to the 92nd minute against Bloemfontein Celtic (on Wednesday) but could only draw. That result (against Celtic) felt like a defeat.
“But now we have a massive opportunity to turn the corner – there’s no better way of doing that than playing against Chiefs. For us, a win is almost a must. Chiefs can afford to draw and still feel comfortable.”
De Sa’s seven-month regime at Bucs’ helm has come under its stringiest scrutiny after the past three results, where Pirates were embarrassed by lowly Maluti and squandered points against Swallows and Celtic. An inquisitor yesterday put it to De Sa that the recent slump in form might be proof the Pirates job is “too big” for him, but, to his credit, De Sa was not riled by this line of questioning and actually exuded maturity in his response.
“When I got here we were 10th (in the standings). We are now just behind Chiefs. We have been on top briefly and we also went 13 matches unbeaten. If that means this job is too big for me, I’ll take it on the chin,” De Sa responded.
Chiefs will back themselves to score against a Bucs defence which has let in eight goals in the last three domestic games – Amakhosi have failed to find the net in just four out of 21 league games this season.
But De Sa is hoping Siyabonga Sangweni is fit to take the field on Saturday, although he was full of praise for the men who’ve been holding the forte while the Bafana Bafana defender has been recovering from injury.
“We knew Sangweni was prone to injury, and we tried to sign a centrehalf (in January). When that didn’t work out we had to make do with what we have. The guys haven’t disappointed, in spite of the results. How much more can they give? It’s a pity that people focus on the last three games, but the fact is we still have the best defence in the league.”
Baxter, meanwhile, has cautioned against taking Pirates lightly. “My experience of any derby is that it doesn’t reflect what’s going on. You’ve seen Everton beating Liverpool when they are way above them in the log standings. The derby is never dependent on form. There are a lot of factors that can boost players’ confidence,” the Chiefs trainer said.
He pointed out that Pirates still had the best defence in the league, in spite of their recent travails. “Pirates haven’t had a bad season defensively. They’ve just had hiccups recently and that happens to any team.” Chiefs will be without Lehlohonolo Majoro, the striker whose equalising goal in the first-round derby enabled Amakhosi to return with a point. “It’s a blow for us. Other players have to step up and I’m glad they have.” – The Star