Pirates replace Sundowns as South African league leaders
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JOHANNESBURG – Orlando Pirates became the third leaders of the South African Premiership within seven days despite only drawing 1-1 at home to mid-table Bloemfontein Celtic in Soweto Tuesday.
Mamelodi Sundowns surrendered top spot after losing 2-1 away to third-place Cape Town City with the new signing Chris David snatching the winning goal two minutes from time.
Bidvest Wits, who ceded first place to Sundowns last week, were not in action Tuesday and dropped to fourth in the tightest South African title race for many seasons.
Pirates and defending champions Sundowns have 40 points with the Soweto Buccaneers occupying first place by the slenderest of goal differences, plus 12 to plus 11.
Cape Town City have 39 points, 2017 champions Wits 38 and SuperSport United 35 in a five-club race for the 10 million rand ($705,000/625,000 euro) main prize.
Pirates struggled to find a way past the massed defence of Celtic and fell behind on 37 minutes when they failed to clear a corner and Tshepo Rikhotso poked the ball into the net.
It took the home side a further 43 minutes of toil before they equalised with patient passing leading to a Luvuyo Memela shot that eluded Cameroonian goalkeeper Patrick Tignyemb.
“No one can accuse us of holding back in the second half,” said Serbia-born Pirates coach Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic.
“There were times when we had two defenders, one defensive midfielder, and the rest of the team spent most of their times in the Celtic half trying to score.
“It was a match we expected to win and, with cooler heads in the final third of the pitch, we could have achieved that goal.
“Now we must forget about the Premiership and concentrate on the CAF Champions League with a must-win home fixture against Platinum of Zimbabwe this Friday.”
Tshepo Rikhotso of Bloemfontein Celtic celebrates his goal with teammates during the match against Orlando Pirates on Tuesday. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
Cape Town once again improved dramatically in the second half of a match to overcome Sundowns, who are seeking a fourth title in six seasons.
A sublime pass from Argentine Emiliano Tade set up Lebohang Maboe to give Sundowns a 14th-minute lead with his seventh Premiership goal of this campaign.
City equalised seven minutes into the second half when a goalmouth deflection fell to Kermit Erasmus, who hammered the ball past Zambian goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene.
Amsterdam-born David came off the bench to fulfil a pre-match promise to coach Benni McCarthy that he would score direct from a free-kick.
“Individually, Sundowns might have had the edge, but we worked harder as a team and the spirit of my players is incredible,” said former South Africa star McCarthy.
Like Pirates, Sundowns have a key CAF Champions League group match this weekend, hosting Lobi Stars from Nigeria near Pretoria.