Johannesburg – Orlando Pirates left-back Thabo Matlaba has called on teammates to remain focused on the title challenge following the resignation of coach Roger de Sa last week.
De Sa quit the Buccaneers just days after a 2-1 victory over Ajax Cape Town in the league, but Matlaba says there is no need to panic or forget about the goals they have set for the season.
“I don’t want to talk much about the coach, but I believe we can still challenge for the league. We have set ourselves a target for the season and we should not forget about it. We just have to keep working hard to achieve our goals.”
The Buccaneers play their first game without De Sa on Tuesday when they host title hopefuls Bidvest Wits at Orlando Stadium (7.30pm), as they continue to play catch-up.
Pirates, who have played five fewer games than leaders and rivals Kaizer Chiefs, will have Eric Tinkler on the bench as caretaker coach and Matlaba has backed the former Bafana Bafana midfielder to keep the Buccaneers in the hunt for the title.
“Nothing has changed. We have Eric Tinkler and Teboho Moloi who were working closely with Roger. If we had made big changes, then I would say we can worry.
“But when we see Eric, we see Roger. Eric has been working with us for some time now and he understands us and we understand him. I think he can do a good job. He is a good person.” the former Free State Stars player said.
“We have to continue where we left off against Ajax. They (Wits) are a good team. We take them seriously, so we are planing the same way we plan for other teams.”
Pirates climbed into the top eight for the first time this season when they beat Ajax in Orlando last week, their first match without midfielder Andile Jali, who has moved to to Belgian club KV Oostende. Lehlogonolo Masalesa stepped into that holding role during the game against the Urban Warriors, winning the Man of the Match award as he convinced some fans that he is capable of doing a job Jali did so well.
Masalesa must be itching to get on to the pitch tonight to give another stunning performance, this time against his former club Wits, where he made a name for himself.
The midfield at Pirates seems to have settled quite well without Jali, so now the big task for Tinkler going into the game against the Clever Boys is to get his strikers firing. None of Kermit Erasmus, Lennox Bacela and new signing Helder Pelembe have found the back of the net in Pirates’ three matches this year, a big concern for any coach.
The Buccaneers must have been disappointed not to have signed striker Lehlohonolo Majoro from Kaizer Chiefs during last month’s transfer.
Majoro, who has signed a pre-contract with the Buccaneers, has done well to get into double figures in all competitions in the previous three seasons and he would have come in handy for Pirates.
Meanwhile, Wits have brought in midfielder Jabulani Shongwe from Mamelodi Sundowns on loan for the rest of the season. The player has signed a pre-contract with the Clever Boys and will just stay at the club when the loan agreement expires. He is likely to make his debut tonight.
The Clever Boys are fourth on the standings on 25 points, three matches fewer than Amakhosi.