The threat of Baroka FC closing in on them inspired Free State Stars to a 3-2 victory over Orlando Pirates on Saturday in what was a dress rehearsal for next weekend’s Nedbank Cup clash with the Buccaneers.
With rookies Baroka having earlier halted what was supposed to be SuperSport United’s march to the Absa Premiership’s unbeaten record run with a 1-0 win in Mbombela, Stars went into this match at the James Motlatsi Stadium in Orkney just a point ahead of Bakgaga.
And Serame Letsoaka’s team clearly knew that any slip-ups would put their elite league status under threat.
Ea Lla Koto dished out a solid showing in both halves, an aggressive one in the initial stanza and a mightily defensive one after the break.
In an incredibly dramatic first half, a whopping five goals were scored as Stars took advantage of Pirates’ error-prone defence.
As early as the fourth minute, Brighton Mhlongo was picking the ball out of the net following an offside trap gone horribly wrong.
When Stars attacked from the left side, Ayanda Gcaba moved up and no doubt expected the rest of his teammates to do the same.
But when Nhlanhla Vilakazi delivered a long ball towards the box, Thabo Matlaba strayed behind, thus keeping Moeketsi Sekola in play.
The ball finding him right on the penalty box arc, Sekola needed just to control the ball and then slot home the opener.
Shocked to be behind so early, Pirates struggled to string together any decent passes, and they were soon 2-0 down, this time their failure to tightly mark their opponents their downfall.
Sinethemba Jantjie struck the ball sweetly and captain Paulos Masehe flicked it with his head to leave Mhlongo clutching at thin air as the ball nestled into the net.
Stars could easily have added two more goals, but Mohamed Anas missed the target by inches following some brilliant build-up play just after the quarter-hour mark. Three minutes later Jantjie turned Ntsikelelo Nyauza inside out, but his bended attempt clipped the crossbar and went over.
Pirates pulled one back in somewhat fortuitous style, the ball bouncing off two Stars players and then off goalkeeper Thela Ngobeni into the net following a good attacking move by Matlaba and Tendai Ndoro.
Stars swiftly restored their two-goal lead from yet another free kick on 28 minutes when former Pirates defender Rooi Mahamutsa set up Anas to slot home past a helpless Mhlongo.
The first-half drama was completed when Oupa Manyisa earned Pirates a penalty kick that Tendai Ndoro converted with the greatest of ease as he chalked up his 12th goal of the season.
After the break, Pirates came out guns blazing and had a penalty appeal fall on deaf ears in the first minute.
From there on it was a case of backs-to-the-wall for Stars as Pirates went in search of the equaliser that never materialised.
Not even the changes made by Kjell Jonovret could help the Buccaneers break the resolute Stars defence, who held their ground to grab crucial maximum points that ensured they leapfrog both Bloemfontein Celtic and
Will Pirates get even next Saturday in the cup?Independent Media