JOHANNESBURG – The souls were healed, a venue that resembled a morgue last season was brought to life and Orlando Pirates’ title challenge was kept alive by a thunderbolt that reminded the Ghost of the back-to-back treble-winning Buccaneers.
Zambian forward Augustine Mulenga opened his Pirates account in style with a stunning goal that helped Pirates get a 2-1 win over Bloemfontein Celtic at Orlando Stadium on Wednesday night, and maximum points to keep the pressure on table-topping Mamelodi Sundowns.
Before Mulenga’s rocket, Pirates looked dead and buried.
But the rejuvenated Soweto giants, with a never-say-die attitude like the one they had under Ruud Krol, fought until the end to claim an important win.
The two Serbian coaches – Veselin Jelusic, a football professor in his homeland and Micho Sredojevic, one of Jelusic’s former students – played with similar formations, 3-4-3, which saw their teams constantly cancel each other out.
The explosive nature of both team’s three-pronged attack was exciting to watch, but quickly stifled by the two holding midfielders who dropped back to make it five defenders when either side lost possession.
That meant a moment of brilliance or madness would separate these teams fighting for two different things – Pirates chasing the championship, and Celtic wanting to squeeze into the top eight.
The Buccaneers, who started this match trailing log-leaders Sundowns by just a point – having played one more game than the Brazilians – started the brighter of the two teams in showing their intentions.
While the talk from the Buccaneers camp is that they aren’t challenging for the league but are only looking to do better than they did last season, on the pitch, the story is different as Bucs played like a team challenging for honours.
FT || @orlandopirates 2-1 @Bloem_Celtic.
🥅 Nyatama 16’
🥅 Mulenga 78’ 🚀
It certainly wasn’t pretty but we came for 3pts & not a pageant. Mulenga’s deposit into his Club account will be one to remember! And onwards we march.
They took the initiative and they were aggressive.
It wasn’t surprising to see Pirates take the lead, even though Celtic were no pushovers, giving as much as they got.
Luvuyo Memela cleverly drew away Phunya Sele Sele defenders inside the box to create space for Musa Nyatama, who slotted home Justin Shonga’s corner.
Nyatama celebrated that goal because it meant a lot in the greater scheme of things in the league race, perhaps showing that Pirates are indeed fighting for the Absa Premiership, as the former Celtic midfielder didn’t celebrate when he scored in Bloemfontein in the first round in November last year.
Jacky Motshegwa should have equalised for Celtic after Ndumiso Mabena smoked Mthokozisi Dube, but the Phunya Sele Sele forward skied his shot over the bar.
It was centreback Lorenzo Gordinho for Celtic who levelled matters just minutes into the second half.
Gordinho scored from a loose ball in Pirates’ box to send this venue into stunned silence. Pirates were shell-shocked and retreated.
To spark things up, Sredojevic brought the bustling Thamsanqa Gabuza on for Marshal Munetsi, who was part of the three-man midfield.
Jelusic responded by withdrawing a striker, Victor Letsoalo, for Kabelo Dlamini to pack the midfield with the intention of overpowering the Buccaneers there.
It was a tactical chess match between two coaches who respect and know each other in depth.
Sredojevic had the upper hand in the last 20 minutes after Gordinho was sent off for a professional foul on Gabuza.
But it was another forward who stole the show for Pirates by producing the moment of brilliance that separated these two teams, with Gabuza having pushed to centreback in the dying minutes of the match.
Mulenga announced himself in style with a rocket that sent the Ghost to cloud nine and kept the Buccaneers on Sundowns’ heels.