Johannesburg – Roger De Sa has admitted that there are some tired legs in his Orlando Pirates squad, but has refused to use that as an excuse for the Buccaneers’ rather weak capitulation at the hands of Bloemfontein Celtic on Saturday night.
Pirates had previously coped fairly well with the effect that reaching the African Champions League final has had on their domestic season – two local cup finals are testament to that, with the Telkom Knockout showpiece coming up on Saturday against Platinum Stars.
In the Absa Premiership, however, Pirates have been less effective, with the 3-2 loss to Celtic their second home league defeat in three attempts. Pirates’ position at the bottom of the table is a slanted statistic – De Sa’s side have between five and seven games in hand on all those above them.
But Saturday’s performance, a defensive nightmare pretty much from beginning to end, suggests that climbing all the way to the top is going to take some doing.
“Definitely,” was De Sa’s response when asked if some of his players were tired.
“But I don’t want to use that as an excuse. We had fresh legs. Lennox (Bacela) didn’t play much on Wednesday, and Daine Klate, (Kermit) Erasmus, and (Thandani) Ntshumayelo were all back, and we had a new right-back. I thought it was enough to energise the squad a bit.
“(Sifiso) Myeni and Andile (Jali) did look a bit fatigued, but you can’t change all 11 players. At least now we have seven days to freshen up and we can push until Christmas.”
De Sa made five changes from the midweek 1-0 win at Maritzburg United, his hand somewhat forced by an injury to Oupa Manyisa and the suspension of Happy Jele. Jele’s absence and other injuries meant a debut for Amajita captain Mbongeni Gumede at right-back.
But Gumede and the rest of the Bucs defence were carved apart by Celtic in the first half. Phunya Sele Sele had drawn their first four games under Ernst Middendorp, and won once all season before Saturday, but here they were well on top, and should have gone into the break with far more than Vuyani Ntanga’s excellent volley to show for their efforts.
Celtic spurned a host of other superb opportunities and De Sa was distinctly unimpressed with Pirates’ first half display.
“In the first half we were second best, without a doubt, in the second we got better and came back, it was pretty balanced. But in the first 45 minutes we were poor all round. We tried to improve but it was not enough, they wanted it more and were better than us.”
De Sa, meanwhile, was not too harsh on debutant Gumede.
“He is the Under-20 captain and he had to have his debut at some stage. Overall I was not totally disappointed, it was difficult, I think the players around him didn’t help him much,” said the Pirates coach.
“He had some good moments… he needs game time, I am sure today he learnt so much and will get better.”
As the rain poured down on Orlando in the second half, Bacela did equalise for Pirates, but goals from Thabo Nthethe and a penalty from the excellent Musa Nyatama sealed the win, with Jali’s late spot-kick the only consolation.
“In the second half pressure came from the home team, but at the moment this team are really coming together, we really showed that,” said Middendorp.
“I think it was a good example of finalising three points, but on the other hand… in four days we have another game and we have to concentrate with immediate effect.”
Celtic are at home to Golden Arrows on Wednesday, while Pirates have the week free to prepare for their cup final against Dikwena.
De Sa is hopeful of having Manyisa and Rooi Mahamutsa back from injury in time for the final, while Jele will be back from suspension, but Pirates will certainly have to up their game if they are not to face dismay for a third cup final in a row, and a second against an inspired Platinum Stars.