Mthokozisi Dube of Orlando Pirates holds off Mxolisi Kunene of Maritzburg United on Friday night. Photo: Steve Haag/BackpagePix

PIETERMARITZBURG – Surprise Absa Premiership leaders Maritzburg United maintained their standing atop the table after a goalless draw with Orlando Pirates on Friday night. 

Both sides failed to score for the first time in the league as Maritzburg and Pirates stayed first and second respectively, separated by goal difference. 

It wasn’t for the lack of trying. An open attacking game was promised and the teams delivered, especially Pirates, who maintained an attacking rhythm throughout.

Box-to-box action kept the full house crowd of approximately 10 000 whistling and cheering. The pacy play was helped by an earlier drizzle that made for a slick surface. 

Were it not for the hulking presence of Maritzburg’s Ghanaian goalkeeper Richard Ofori, the travelling team might have enjoyed more threatening opportunities.

The Black Stars player cut out almost everything that was floated into his area, and what he couldn’t grasp, he punched and parried away before the likes of Thamsanqa Gabuza and Bernard Morrison could attempt anything. 

And when the ball was kept low, Ofori spread himself horizontally and large to deny Gabuza by pushing his 40th-minute close-range shot for a corner.

He was fortunate not to have to deal with a penalty when Thabo Qalinge’s decent appeal, following a tussle with defender Bevan Fransman, was turned down by referee Cedric Muvhali in the ninth minute.

Maritzburg had slightly better first-half openings. Striker Evans Rusike’s spindly limbs caught the Pirates backline back-pedalling in the 16th minute, and his quick exchange with Siphesihle Ndlovu ended with the latter’s shot being blocked by Ntsikelelo Nyauza after he rounded goalie Wayne Sandilands.

Bandile Shandu then gave Sandilands catching practice when Ndlovu turned provider with an early pass into the box. The Pirates shot-stopper also got down well to keep out Rusike’s curler on 30 minutes.

Pirates came into the clash having scored in the first half of each of their three earlier league outings, but their direct attempts were neutralised by Fransman and Co.

It was a different story when they changed approach and carried the ball further forward through Qalinge, who tricked and treated the fans on the left touchline.

The addition of Thabo Rakhale early after the break for Morrison gave the Buccaneers’ attack greater impetus, and they celebrated a goal from Nyauza, only for the referee to cancel it for an infringement in the build-up.

The pressure took its toll and Fransman was cautioned to join teammate Pogiso Sanoka among the home bookings.

Pirates were on the rampage. With better off-the-ball movement, former Maritzburg man Musa Nyatama kept his team going forward.

However, the Team of Choice stood firm, with Ndlovu seeing yellow for another attempt at denying Bucs.

Maritzburg soaked up the pressure and tried to operate on the counter, with little effect against Nyauza, Happy Jele and Abbubaker Mobara, who put up a defensive shield in midfield until he went off late for Pirates’ final substitution. 

Serbian coach Milutin Sredojevic went for the kill, throwing on teenage striker Lyle Foster for his debut, replacing Mobara.

That was the third attacking switch, with Foster joining Rakhale and Thembinkosi Lorch on the pitch in a bid for victory. 

The intensity forced Ndlovu to trudge off for a second yellow card offence, which means he will miss Wednesday’s visit by Kaizer Chiefs.

IOL Sport