CAPE TOWN - Orlando Pirates benefited from Swallows FC's unusually bland performance by racking up their maiden DStv Premiership win of the season, thanks to Tshegofatso Mabasa's goal at the Orlando Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The lone goal settled a contest that produced an improved performance by Pirates, who, in their two opening matches, misfired and came away with as many draws.
An inspired substitution just past the hour mark produced the desired effect for Pirates after Mabasa, who replaced Namibian international Deon Hotto, headed home a Vincent Pule goalmouth cross.
The result suited the occasion because Happy Jele, the Pirates captain, made his 400th appearance for the Soweto giants AmaBhakabhaka. Before the match, Jele was presented a commemorative plaque, and he topped off the day with a 'Man-of-the-Match' performance. He is the most capped Pirates player of all time, after making his debut in 2006.
"Happy Jele, what a top professional. You need role models like these in your squad. I had a chat with him saying it is 400," said Pirates co-coach Fadlu Davids after the match.
"Next season, with the number of games we play, he could get to 500. But congratulations to him, very well deserved."
Jele said Saturday's match was an emotionally charged event.
"It was emotional for me, and I wanted to cry,” said Jele afterwards. "But if I cried, I wouldn’t play very well, so I started to be focused because we had to play the game.
"It is a special day for me. It has not been an easy journey to play 400 games for one team. It was tough, but through thick and thin, I managed to cope.
"There was a time when I was injured, and people wrote me off. God was always with me, so I worked and came back strongly."
Apart from highlighting Jele's match-winning role, Davids also singled out midfielder Ntsako Makhubela who produced a stirring performance on debut. He joined Pirates from Golden Arrows last month.
"He showed a never-say-die attitude when he came into the team," said Davids. "He fitted in well with the group in terms of the cohesion with the players.
“We know he can play in different positions. He’s key when we execute our high press when we don’t have the ball.
“He was smart in trying to find the spaces in the opposition ranks, be it between the lines picking the ball up in a deeper position or carrying it up to the final third.
“I’m really happy with his contribution. It is never easy coming in as a new player. After two early errors, he came bouncing back with such a fine performance."
Swallows FC coach Brandon Truter said his team played out of character and were dismal in front of the opposition goal.
Like Pirates, Swallows had nine shots at goal and won the corner count 8-5. This reflects the pressure Swallows created at the opposition's deep end.
"We had one or two moments and the same could be said for Pirates," said Truter. "The difference was that they capitalised on their chance, and we didn't.
"I wouldn’t say it was a fair result but well done to Pirates for getting the three points today.
"We were not at our best today, to say the least. I think we were a bit stuck in one gear.
"We should have been a bit tighter and done better to stop the cross. We were not our usual selves today."