JOHANNESBURG – On May 27, this Mamelodi Sundowns side could either be surrendering the Absa Premiership to Bidvest Wits or retaining it for a second successive season.
If it’s handing it over, they shouldn’t be too worried – they will bounce back.
When Sundowns are in action against the country’s usual suspects for championship contention, they hardly ever leave you disappointed, as they showed by beating Orlando Pirates 2-0 here on Sunday afternoon.
Their quality is often pretty glaring, even in defeat, like when they went down 1-0 to Wits last Monday, allowing their rivals to ascend to the top of the log.
Even with surprise package
But that question almost naturally comes up when Wits, Kaizer Chiefs, SuperSport United and Orlando Pirates, who are enduring one of the worst seasons in the club’s history and were battered by Sundowns here in their own backyard.
Wits remained at the summit, three points clear with three matches to go, with a 1-0 win against Maritzburg United on Sunday afternoon.
But Sundowns looked comfortable as they kept their title hopes alive against Pirates. It’s been a tough week for coach Pitso Mosimane and his men.
They lost to the Clever Boys on Workers’ Day and dropped two crucial points against Platinum Stars, a side fighting for the lives in the relegation quagmire on Thursday, while Wits brushed aside Pirates later that evening.
Had Sundowns been out of sorts again here, then Wits would have immediately been described as runaway leaders. The Brazilians didn’t have to dig too deep – they were efficient and clinical when their chances came.
In the 25th minute, Khama Billiat got enough height on his header to put it beyond goalkeeper Jackson Mabokgwane, who’d returned to the starting line-up due to the unavailability of Siyabonga Mpontshane.
Mabokgwane would have wanted to keep a clean-sheet, having conceded six goals in the corresponding fixture in February at Loftus Versfeld.
But Billiat, and then Yannick Zakri early in the second half, had other plans.
Speaking of Zakri, there’s another reason why Sundowns should feel they will be back in contention for the league title next season – that’s if Wits don’t capitulate in the remaining three fixtures against Free State Stars,
Zakri scored his first goal since arriving at Sundowns in the 2-2 draw against Platinum Stars on Thursday, and grabbed another big goal here as he showed why Mosimane uprooted him from
He’d been struggling to break the drought, but is finding his rhythm just in time for the remaining matches in the title run-in as well as the group stages of the CAF Champions League.
Pirates, on the other hand, can’t wait for the end of the season. This has been dreadful, and on the evidence of this defeat here, a top-eight finish could prove to be a tall order.
At least they still have the Nedbank Cup to look forward to, given they have reached the semi-finals and face Golden Arrows on May 21.
But they will have to panel-beat their defence to stand any chance of reaching the final.