at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Is this the title that no one wants? Or the title that everyone wants, but is hanging, like a desert mirage, just out of their reach?
Whatever way you look at the current race for the Absa Premiership, it seems likely, as with so many before it, that it will go right down to the wire, to the final day of the season.
Last season Orlando Pirates, and an Isaac Chansa rocket, stole the glory. And it is the Buccaneers at the front of the queue this time around, edging two points clear thanks to an unmemorable draw with Bidvest Wits on Saturday night.
It was a second successive goalless point for the Bucs, which in another week, in another season, might have seen them slip off the pace. Instead, as Sundowns have lost their dominant plot, Pirates have crawled further ahead.
Pirates were unlucky in midweek against Moroka Swallows, but against Wits they were simply uninteresting. This whole game in fact, should be consigned to the scrap heap of matches that constitute 90 minutes better spent elsewhere.
Pirates caretaker coach Augusto Palacios was in no mood to dwell on his side’s negatives, however. He preferred to compare Wits to the defensive displays, back in the day, sometimes given by José Mourinho’s Chelsea.
“I don’t think we are inconsistent,” he said.
“Our problem is just putting the ball in the back of the net. Against Swallows we could not convert our chances, and on Friday we practised our finishing. Our opponents (Wits) reminded me of when Mourinho was at Chelsea, and they put defenders back behind the ball, against Barcelona or Real Madrid.
“I think Roger (De Sa, the Wits coach) applied the same thing. He has nine players back. When Tlou (Segolela) tried to break there was a defender covering, this was the plan.
“It’s not Pirates that are inconsistent, it’s South African football.”
Palacios also noted that his side had a few chances to win the game at the death, with substitute Rudolf Bester seeing his shot cleared off the line and heading over, while another substitute, Dikgang Mabalane, also smashed one wildly over the bar.
“When TK (Tokelo Rantie) was missing chances I had to put Bester on. Benni (McCarthy) can’t support the attack all the time. He was winning all his headers but had two players marking him,” said Palacios.
“It was difficult to penetrate. In the last 10 minutes, if we played it cool, we could have won it, especially with Bester and Terminator (Mabalane). It was not our time. But we are accumulating points, this is good for us.
“We have a difficult game coming up at Ajax Cape Town, but I have confidence in the players.”
Palacios also felt that Pirates should have had a second-half penalty, waved away by referee Jerome Damon when Daine Klate went down in the box.
“For me, from the angle I saw it was a clear penalty,” said Palacios.
“It was not a dive. The referee was not in a good position to give it.”
Palacios also said that he was unaware Sundowns had lost in Maritzburg until he was told at the post-match press conference.
“I didn’t want to know during the game, you told me now and that’s good,” he said.
Pirates midfielder Oupa Manyisa picked up a third yellow card that leaves him suspended for the game against Ajax on Friday, and if Palacios was critical of his players, it was to warn them that no one’s place in the side is safe.
“My concern is that some players are not performing, and I have depth,” he said.
“If a player is not performing, I will put another one in.”
For Wits, this was a decent enough point, and De Sa professed himself happy with the performance of his young side, even if they have still not won a league game in 2012.
“We’ve been disappointed with our form this year. We had five losses in a row, and now we’ve got two draws (against Ajax and Pirates).
“The Ajax game was not the greatest performance, but today it’s a good point,” said the Wits coach.
“It’s no secret we’ve had a lot of injuries. Today I played five under-19s, last week it was seven, it’s very difficult when you are playing boys against men.
“You get away with it sometimes, but not every week. We are planning ahead and I think in the future we will be better and stronger.”
Wits also had a late chance to win in Orlando, through Miguel Timm, who shot wide, but they, too, would have been flattered by anything more than a point. – The Star