JOHANNESBURG - If Orlando Pirates can be as calm and confident as midfielder Xola Mlambo was in this interview when they face Bidvest Wits tonight, then the Buccaneers can make up for their MTN8 anticlimax with relative ease. But the reality is that Mlambo and his teammates host a resurgent Clever Boys, who even he described as the team to beat in the Absa Premiership currently.
Pirates, by all accounts, put in a solid shift on Saturday night but still went down to SuperSport United on penalties following a 2-2 draw during 120 minutes of football. The question, as they prepare to welcome early pace setters Wits to the Orlando Stadium is: How can they possibly improve on a performance that really could not be faulted aside from the fact that striker Augustine Mulenga missed a penalty during extra-time, which could have put the cup tie beyond their opponents’ reach?
“I suppose losing the game means that we were not deserving (of a victory). It means SuperSport doubled their efforts in a much as we did all the basics to win it,” Mlambo summed up their setback from the weekend. “It was a bitter pill to swallow ... To be honest it is tough playing any team in the league at the moment. Wits have coach Gavin Hunt’s experience. Yes, they had a tough previous season, but when you have someone who has won the championship a record four-times then you know they are always going to look for ways to improve.”
Hunt has shaken things up at Wits, and although it is way too early to say for sure that they will turn the corner from their 13th place finish in the last campaign as defending champions, their wins over Free State Stars and Kaizer Chiefs just about tipped over the season predictions for those who had completely written the Clever Boys off. They thumped Stars, their bogey side, 3-0 in their league opener and followed that up by crushing Chiefs 3-1 at FNB Stadium last Tuesday.
“We can see that they are scoring and that puts them on the front foot,” Mlambo said, well aware of the fact that Pirates may have over promised and under delivered so far by being held to a draw in their opener at home against promoted side Highlands Park, grinding out a narrow 1-0 win away to Chippa United - which came courtesy of an own goal, and then suffering an early elimination from the MTN8.
“What makes it worse is the fact that we lost in front of our fans and they are expecting a lot this season. Maybe we did not give enough in the cup game and we must add a bit more. It is possible that our work rate was perhaps not deserving of a victory, but it was the case for SuperSport. We will now play a Wits team that knows some of our players like Ben (Motshwari) and Vincent (Pule). They will know their strengths and weakness, but they will not know how they have improved since they arrived at Pirates.”
Hunt watched the Buccaneers lose to SuperSport on Saturday night and he would have already be busy plotting to take another big scalp after a polished display against Chiefs with a newly assembled squad, which pretty much still has his footprint all over if you’ve watched them in those two wins.