JOHANNESBURG – The loss to Free State Stars last year, in a match that saw Orlando Pirates create enough chances to defeat Ea Lla Koto, inspired the Buccaneers to sharpen their attack that went from toothless to possessing the bite of a lion.
That strong attack has seen the Buccaneers roar to second place to become genuine Absa Premiership contenders with just four points between them and first-placed Mamelodi Sundowns with seven matches to go.
The thought of being championship challengers never crossed coach Micho Sredojevic’s mind in the first half of the season as the Serbian cut a frustrated figure in his technical area watching his misfiring strikers in horror. Pirates scored 12 goals in 15 matches.
“It was very, very hard,” Sredojevic said. “But we knew that we would turn things around and now that has happened, what is keeping us grounded is that we are involved in a process.
“I remember how painful it was when we lost to Free State Stars. We had given it our all. We had enough chances to win that game. The faces of our players showed that we are working with winners because they didn’t just take that loss. They were driven to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
“They went to refresh themselves spiritually and physically during the Christmas break. We returned on December 27 with the intention of injecting the players with confidence so that they don’t think about missing when they are in good goal-scoring positions.
“The aim was to allow them to create chances and take whatever conversion ratio came from that without it destabilising them to create more while pushing them to score more goals.”
The Buccaneers returned stronger in 2018, scoring six goals in their first two matches. It took them six matches in the first half of the season to reach that total. With renewed confidence, Pirates have scored 18 goals in eight matches this year.
The situation was so dire in the first half of the season that after playing to a 1-1 draw with AmaZulu in December, just before the loss to Stars, Sredojevic hinted that he would field two goalkeepers at training.
His argument was that he would push his players to do even better in front of goal by making it tougher at training so that coming up against one man is easier on match day.
“I have to give absolute credit to the players for reacting positively to the belief we injected in them because you can inject belief to someone, but if they don’t have self-belief and they aren’t pushing themselves at training, then they will not improve,” Sredojevic said.
“It’s like a war-zone here in small-sided games at training. They don’t like to miss or lose even at training. This is the spirit that has brought us here.
“In the first half of the season we had 20 points from 15 games. Now we are on 39 (19 points from eight games). We are happy with that.”
Sredojevic gave his players a short break after beating arch-rivals Kaizer Chiefs 3-1 on Saturday in the Soweto Derby at FNB Stadium.
They returned from that break to prepare for their clash with Cape Town City next Wednesday in the Nedbank Cup in the Mother City. Pirates go into that last 16 match confident after thumping Amakhosi with renewed energy in their now free-scoring attack.