at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Orlando Pirates (1) 2
Masuku 35, Matlaba 56
Ajax Cape Town (0) 1
Orlando Stadium - Orlando Pirates finally found a victory in 2014 on Monday, a combination of fluke and flair allowing them to climb into the top eight of the Absa Premiership for the first time this season.
This was also a win to alleviate some of the pressure on Roger de Sa, whose job has once more been the subject of speculation, after Pirates picked up just one point from their opening two games of the year.
De Sa saw Lehlohonolo Masalesa give a man-of-the-match showing in the void left by Andile Jali’s departure for Belgium, as Pirates saw off a late rally from Ajax Cape Town.
If there was a stroke of luck about Khethowakhe Masuku’s opener for Pirates, Thabo Matlaba provided a brilliant second, and it turned out Pirates badly needed the comfort of a second goal
Ajax were dreadful in the first half, but rallied well once they went two down, Granwald Scott’s effort creating a nervy finish for the Buccaneers.
De Sa gave Masalesa an expected start, and he fired in a couple of early sighters, one easily caught by Anssi Jaakkola, and the other well off target.
Masalesa was more accurate with one delightful pass that sent Oupa Manyisa into the Ajax penalty area, but Manyisa was eventually crowded off the ball. Thandani Ntshumayelo then headed over Manyisa’s cross, as Pirates probed without too much penetration.
Aside from the change enforced by Jali’s departure, De Sa, meanwhile, also gave Mozambican Helder Pelembe his first start in a Pirates shirt, in place of Kermit Erasmus in attack. And Pelembe was the next man to test Jaakkola, another long-range effort fairly comfortably stopped. If Ajax were ineffective going forward, their defence remained solid, and when the Buccaneers goal did come, it was a combination of a freak effort and a goalkeeping error.
Masuku collected the ball on the right wing and his attempted cross flicked off the misjudged reach of Jaakkola and into the net. The rain began to bucket down on Orlando now, and that perhaps affected Ajax captain Dominic Isaacs, as his slip allowed Manyisa to burst into the area, Isaacs recovering well to block his shot.
Isaacs was in the thick of the action again at the start of the second half, diving in superbly to stop Pelembe from getting on the end of Masuku’s cross.
Ajax finally put together a decent attack, Cecil Lolo’s cross met by the head of Eleazar Rodgers, only for Ayanda Gcaba to stand firm and block. And almost immediately, Pirates doubled their lead. Aubrey Ngoma found space down the left and fed Matlaba, who curled a brilliant effort beyond the reach of Jaakkola.
Ajax, to their credit, improved in the second half, and kept plugging away at the Pirates defence. And Ian Taylor’s side were rewarded when Scott turned superbly in the area and volleyed past Senzo Meyiwa.
Pirates almost went further in front as Happy Jele got forward from the right, and provided an excellent cross that was met with an equally potent header from Pelembe. But Jaakkola rose brilliantly to tip the ball over the bar.
De Sa was then left fuming at Matlaba as a horrible misjudgment allowed substitute Tashreeq Morris to get down the left, and though his cross was cleared, Rodgers fired over from the next phase of play.
Pirates were suddenly reeling and Morris again got free down the right, lashing in a shot that Meyiwa tipped over the bar.