JOHANNESBURG – Maybe ‘Micho’ has the formula.
Although it is way too early to conclude that Orlando Pirates have finally replaced last season’s leaking rusty buckets in defence, a clean sheet here on Saturday night in their opening 1-0 Absa Premiership victory over Chippa United was certainly a welcomed start.
Recently appointed coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic handed out four debuts in what many will view as a spanking new Buccaneers side who are desperate to claw their way back to being the South African powerhouse that they are.
The notable changes were obviously at the back, where goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands and left back Innocent Maela were the fresh faces, but accompanied by Ntsikelelo Nyauza and Gladwin Shitolo – two men who were squad players last season, but spent much of the campaign kicking their heels in the stands.
Seems the old guard, if you want to describe them that way, are out in the cold.
Happy Jele, Ayanda Gcaba and even Patrick Phungwayo didn’t even have a place on the bench, such is the objective to start afresh.
Pirates conceded 40 goals in 30 league matches in the previous campaign under three different coaches in Muhsin Ertugral, who quit three months into his tenure, Augusto Palacios, who took over in the interim, and Kjell Jonevret, who we all assumed would have been sitting in the dug-out at the start of the 2017/18 term.
That was until two weeks ago, when he surprisingly resigned amid rumours that Sredojevic was close to a return at a club he coached 10 years ago.
To his credit, seemingly unaware that he was on his way out, Jonevret had made it clear that there would be wholesale changes, and goalkeeper Sandilands’ arrival from Mamelodi Sundowns as a free agent had at least guaranteed that a change between the sticks, at the very least, was imminent.
Sandilands was hardly tested by the Chippa attack on Saturday night, but in two instances where he was called upon, the one-time Bafana goal-minder showed experience, confidence and authority in his own box.
Thamsanqa Sangweni, another debutant, had casually given away possession in his own half, leaving Sandilands exposed and one-on-one with striker Moeketsi Sekola.
Rewind to last season and Pirates would have, in all likelihood, been punished from that scenario.
But Sandilands preserved the clean sheet, and not long after that, Thamsanqa Gabuza broke the deadlock at the other end, connecting intelligently with a measured cross from Maela to beat Brighton Mhlongo, one of the butter-fingered Pirates goalkeepers last season who has since joined Chippa on loan.
Sandilands denied Sekola again in the 80th minute when his flicked header was parried away by the goalkeeper for a corner kick.
Chippa didn’t prove a real test for this new Pirates defence, but whatever pressure was there, they absorbed.
Sredojevic knows they will face reigning champions Bidvest Wits, African champions Mamelodi Sundowns – who beat them 6-0 in a league fixture back in February – as well as SuperSport United, who thumbed them 6-1 the night Ertugral quit.
Matsatsantsa then humiliated them 4-1 later on in the final game of the previous campaign in the Nedbank Cup final two months ago.
This young defence will be up against it sooner rather than later, but a clean sheet in their opening league game in front of their home crowd is at least an ideal start.