Free State Stars put another dent in Orlando Pirates’ Absa Premiership title aspirations on Wednesday night, holding the defending league champions to a 1-1 draw at Charles Mopeli Stadium.
The result is Bucs’ sixth successive draw in the league and sees them miss out in the chance to significantly cut the gap to log leaders Kaizer Chiefs. As for Ea Lla Koto, the draw ends a run of three successive defeats.
Both sides found their rhythm relatively quickly in the game, but a lack of incision in the final third of the field meant clear scoring chances were hard to come by in the first half hour.
Stars saw midfielder Sihle Mpuqa head over from a corner kick routine, while Pirates created a couple of half chances for the likes of Takesure Chinyama and Onyekachi Okonkwo.
On the half hour mark Bucs had the first clear opening, with Okonkwo’s lob over the defence sending Mpho Makola through on goal, but with only Kennedy Mweene to beat he pulled his shot wide of the target.
On 32 minutes Ea Lla Koto punished some slack defending and broke the deadlock. Pirates dealt poorly with a corner kick and Paulus Masehe was left free to drive home a half-volley from a tight angle to make it 1-0.
Stars should have gone into the half time break two goals up, as winger Luyolo Nomandela had a great chance in injury time, but a heavy touch when through on goal allowed goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa to smother the ball.
Pirates started the second half brightly and Daine Klate threatened a couple of times, first curling a cross/shot just off target and then a few minutes later shooting on target with his weaker right foot to force Mweene into a good save.
While Bucs had more of the ball in the second half, Stars remained dangerous on attack and substitute Dove Wome almost doubled the home side’s advantage on 74 minutes with a low shot that flashed across the face of goal.
Four minutes later Pirates were handed something of a gift when Mpuqa was harshly penalised for hand-ball in the box, handing the visitors a spot kick. Substitute Collins Mbesuma converted the penalty to make it 1-1 with just over ten minutes to play.
On 83 minutes Mbesuma should have put the Soweto side ahead, as he powered a header wide of the target from close range after a great chipped cross from the by-line by Makola, and a short while later both Anver Esterhuizen and Moeketsi Mvula missed out on a glaring opportunity for Stars.
Free State Stars (1) 1 (Masehe 32’)
Orlando Pirates (0) 1 (Mbesuma 79’ pen)
Stars: Mweene, Sambu, Gege, Ouro-Akoriko, Thebakang, Mpuqa, Masehe, Kerspuy (Wome 68’), Nomandela, Venter (Esterhuizen 82’), Mvula
Pirates: Meyiwa, Jele, Lekgwathi, Gcaba, Phungwayo, Masalesa, Okonkwo, Makola (Bester 86’), Masuku (Mabena 55’), Klate, Chinyama (Mbesuma 66’) – Backpage Media