JOHANNESBURG – It wasn’t pretty, but Orlando Pirates won’t mind. The three points are all that matters for the Buccaneers at this stage after they beat Ajax Cape Town 1-0 on Tuesday night.
They’ll worry about aesthetics later. For them, it’s about getting a victory that will help the players gain confidence, and their 100% record at home so far doesn’t hurt – no matter how scrappy those wins have been like.
It wasn’t surprising to see the Buccaneers introduce Issa Sarr with 20 minutes remaining in place of the attack-minded Thabo Qalinge.
The intention was to close shop and secure their slender lead with the Senegalese workhorse.
Milutin “Micho” Sredojevic admitted that his immediate challenge at Pirates is to work on the players’ mental strength that took a battering last season.
Once he improves that, he will then work on other aspects of their game like making their fans happy.
On Tuesday night, the mood in this stadium was sombre for the better part, even though the hosts took an early lead.
The fans were cautious that the wheels would fall off towards the end. But the Buccaneers held on against an Ajax side that hardly tested goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands.
Bernard Morrison put on a shift and a half in a bid to cement his place in the starting XI after spending most of last season on the sidelines.
At times, though, Morrison tried too much. He played more with his heart than his head, with the memory of being reduced to the MultiChoice Diski Challenge last season still fresh.
That was a massive downgrade for the forward, who was involved in the Caf Champions League before joining Pirates, with much expected from him.
The Ghanaian was unorthodox in his play, but his bullish nature troubled the Ajax defenders, especially Erwin Isaacs, who couldn’t contain him.
Morrison played like a man possessed and was rewarded with his first goal in the colours of the Buccaneers.
That goal should give him confidence under a new manager in Sredojevic, who has been giving everyone a chance before getting into a consistent XI.
The Serbian coach even had space for youngster Lyle Foster, who was promoted from the club’s development. But the 17-year-old striker was on the bench, with Thamsanqa Gabuza leading the attack.
The Buccaneers are still far from a well-oiled machine, with some cracks that still needs patching up, like their negative mindset of defending after going ahead.
The mental scars of last season are still there, driven by not wanting to fail.
But there is some promise that things will be better in this campaign. They are playing with a lot of freedom under Sredojevic, who confessed that he is a Pirates fan before he is their coach.
Sredojevic said he felt the pain the club endured in their miserable showing in the last campaign, losing the honour of being the only club to finish in the top eight in every season in the PSL era.
In a bid to wash away those tears, he has been slowly making Pirates more energetic and younger in the players he fields.
That’s nothing new. “Micho” launched Happy Jele’s career a decade ago, and promoted the late Senzo Meyiwa to the first team. He will need to continue with that as Pirates are in need of fresh blood and different ideas.