Johannesburg – Orlando Pirates struck twice in the early stages of the second half to secure a 2-0 win over Premiership strugglers Free State Stars at Orlando Stadium on Saturday evening.
The fixture started 15 minutes late, due to insufficient water pressure at the Soweto venue, but it did little to deter the hosts, who maintained their composure with newly appointed coach Vladimir Vermezovic watching from the stands.
Stars, desperate to save a point, were solid at the back throughout the goalless first half, and while Pirates created a multitude of chances, they were forced to take most of them from a long way out.
The Buccaneers came close in the first five minutes of the match when Khethowakhe Masuku drew a fine save from Tshepo Motsoeneng, with the goalminder tipping his attempt wide to the right.
The hosts nearly pulled ahead again in the 18th minute, with Mozambican international Helder Pelembe taking a shot from the edge of area, but Motsoeneng managed to get down low to make another impressive save.
Clearly frustrated as they tried to break through the last line of defence, Masuku had another opportunity for Bucs with 20 minutes remaining in the opening period, though he was wayward from long range as the visitors held on to stay level at the interval.
The home side, however, came charging out in the second stanza and took the lead just three minutes after the break when Thabo Matlaba latched on to a through ball and flicked the ball past Motsoeneng.
In response, surging forward for the first time in the match as they went in search of the equaliser, Stars had a chance seven minutes later but Lehlohonolo Thebakang sliced an attempt across the box from the left and hit the side netting.
Bucs hit back on the counter attack and capitalised on the sudden gaps created in the Stars defence, with Mpho Makola storming into the area and firing across the goalmouth to find the back of the net as the hosts stretched their advantage.
With the visiting side continuing to put up a fight, substitute Camaldine Abraw nearly stunned Pirates shortly before the hour mark when he turned on Lucky Lekgwathi and caught goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa offguard as he slammed his effort against the left post.
Pirates had a few more opportunities to stretch the lead, but the visitors managed to prevent any further damage.
Sifiso Myeni and Matlaba were both denied by relatively routine saves from Motsoeneng, and Masuku hit the crossbar from a set-piece with 13 minutes left in the match.
Pirates, who held at least one game in hand over every other team in the top half of the table, continued to chip away at the advantage held by the sides above them.
Stars, meanwhile, continued to flail in the relegation zone after going down in their 10th defeat in 18 league matches this season. – Sapa