Thandi Ntshumayelo is still confident that Orlando Pirates can catch Kaizer Chiefs in the Absa Premiership title race, with the Buccaneers in with a chance to make up some ground at home to Free State Stars this evening.
Pirates picked up a crucial victory at Mamelodi Sundowns in midweek, a result that moved them into the top six in the table, 16 points behind leaders Amakhosi, but with three games in hand.
That still leaves the Buccaneers with plenty to do to challenge Chiefs, as they welcome a struggling Stars, with caretaker coach Eric Tinkler still in charge as Vladimir Vermezovic, who will be in the stands at Orlando Stadium, awaits his work permit.
But Ntshumayelo says there remains the belief at the Bucs that they can compete for the title. “Yes, we can catch them (Chiefs),” said Ntshumayelo this week.
“We still have to play them and we have had difficulties this season, and they haven’t. I know the feeling of being on top, if they (Chiefs) don’t crack, they are a good team, but it is time for ‘men’ now.”
Chiefs, like Pirates last year, have to cope with the distraction of the Champions League, but Ntshumayelo feels it is not just this that could cause Amakhosi problems.
“Besides the Champions League, when I was at SuperSport, with five or six games to go it is difficult to win, because you are looking at the other teams, and they can overtake you,” he said.
The 23-year-old, hard-tackling midfielder also believes the arrival of Vermezovic at Pirates can boost the Bucs going in to the campaign’s last few months. “When a new coach arrives players, even players who aren’t playing, pull up their socks and work hard,” he said. “It will improve the team – I think the coach came at the right time.”
Even without Vermezovic, Pirates showed promising signs against Sundowns, fighting their way to a narrow win courtesy of Khethowakhe Masuku’s strike.
“It feels good to win, especially against Sundowns,” said Ntshumayelo. “Now we must continue winning so we can go up the table and compete for the league.”
Pirates are certainly heavy favourites to take down Ea Lla Koto, currently struggling towards the foot of the table.
Also today, Sundowns will hope to bounce back from the loss to Pirates, but they face a tricky trip to face Gavin Hunt’s Wits. Wits’ Zimbabwean left-back Onismor Bhasera is suspended for the game after his red card in the midweek win over SuperSport, and admits he is disappointed to miss such an important game.
Wits can draw level on points with Pitso Mosimane’s second-placed side with a victory. “It is a big game indeed, and as players these are the types of games you want to play in,” said Bhasera this week. “The boys have a winning mentality. We are working together as a team – so hopefully we will collect the points.”
(kick-off 3.30pm unless stated)
Today: Golden Arrows v University of Pretoria, King Zwelithini Stadium; Bidvest Wits v Mamelodi Sundowns, Bidvest Stadium, 6pm; Orlando Pirates v Free State Stars, Orlando Stadium, 8.15pm
Tomorrow: Bloemfontein Celtic v MP Black Aces, Kaizer Sebothelo Stadium - Saturday Star