Mamelodi Sundowns edge Orlando Pirates in New Year’s thriller
PRETORIA – Mamelodi Sundowns strengthened their hold of top spot in the DStv Premiership with a 1-0 win over title rivals Orlando Pirates at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
A cracking, end-to-end match which could have produced numerous goals was decided by a first-half header from Brazilians striker Brian Onyango, with the result sending the reigning champions three points clear of nearest chasers Swallows FC. The Buccaneers’ first loss of the season leaves them in fifth place and eight points adrift of the top, though they have played a game less than ‘Downs.
Sundowns created the early pressure and saw Lebohang Maboe shoot just off target from the ‘D’ of the box in the third minute, while eight minutes later Ricardo Nascimento got on the end of a corner kick and powered a header toward goal, only for Fortune Makaringe to make a fine block.
Pirates soon found their feet in the game and had two good chances around the quarter hour mark, with Thembinkosi Lorch dragging a shot wide before Vincent Pule stung the palms of ‘Downs goalkeeper Denis Onyango with a long-range effort.
Bucs threatened again on 34 minutes when Hotto ran onto a long ball over the defence, drew ‘keeper Onyango off his line and squared in search of Terrence Dzvukamanja, who would have had a tap-in with an open goal were it not for a great recovery challenge from central defender Brian Onyango.
And the big Kenyan then opened the scoring a minute later, capitalising on a looping ball in the penalty area (a completely unintentional assist from Nascimento, who was unsighted and had a free kick ricochet off his leg) to head home from close range and put the Brazilians 1-0 up.
The hosts were able to hold their lead up to the halftime interval. The second stanza opened with Pirates replacing Wayde Jooste with Siphesihle Ndlovu in a substitution which brought a change of shape and tactics for the visitors.
On 54 minutes the Soweto side nearly claimed an equaliser when a ball fell kindly for Lorch, who struck an effort on target but saw it turned away at the near post by Onyango, while shortly thereafter Makaringe had a turn and shot from the edge of the box which was straight at the ‘keeper.
The teams began to trade chances as the game became an end-to-end affair, with Mothobi Mvala failing to find the target for Sundowns, while Pirates’ Deon Hotto saw a goal-bound shot in the 59th minute take two deflections before flashing just wide.
Sundowns sought more midfield control with the introduction of Andile Jali, while Kermit Erasmus added to their threat on the counter attack, and Bucs continued to add more potency to their offence by putting on Frank Mhango in place of Makaringe.
The Malawian striker forced out a fine save out of Onyango with a shot direct from a free kick in the 71st minute, while at the other end a short while later Pirates were lucky not to see Thulani Hlatshwayo pick up a second yellow card for a clumsy challenge on Shalulile.
Sundowns were inches away from killing off the game in the 84th minute when Erasmus had a clear sight of goal but saw his effort strike the inside of the post and rebound across the face of goal, before Thapelo Morena hit the side netting from an even better chance a short while later.
Half-chances continued to be created at both ends right to the final whistle, but ultimately Sundowns emerged 1-0 winners and claimed three points which could prove very valuable in the championship reckoning.
Both teams are scheduled to be in CAF club action this coming midweek, with Sundowns hosting Botswana’s Jwaneng Galaxy in the Champions League (the first leg ended 2-0 in favour of the Brazilians) and Pirates hosting Angola’s Sagrada Esperanca in the Confederation Cup (the Buccaneers lead 1-0 in the tie).
Premier Soccer League