Orlando Pirates beat Leopards to close in on league leaders Chiefs
THOHOYANDOU – Orlando Pirates cemented themselves as one of the favourites for Absa Premiership title after they pulled off a late 1-0 victory over Black Leopards at the Thohoyandou Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Bucs will look at Sunday’s result with a huge sigh of relief and ample boost as they prepare to lock horns with sworn enemies and log leaders Kaizer Chiefs, whom they now trail by six points, on Saturday, February 29th.
For Lidoda Duvha though, the remedy to avoid the dreaded relegation axe continued as they remained 14th log standings, joint on 20 points with basement occupants AmaZulu.
But while Pirates walked away victors here, courtesy of a 94th minute own goal by Thabiso Mokoena after a delivery by Vincent Pule, Lidoda Duvha would feel hard done by being on the losing end especially after dominating proceedings in the first half.
The two teams who enjoyed carpet football – using slick passes to unlock and penetrate defence – but differed in how they controlled the tempo of the game; Pirates quick in build-up, while Leopards absorbed the pressure and built play from the back.
Pirates’ game-plan nearly yielded the instant results as Pule, down the right flanked, linked up with Luvuyo Memela, whose slow cut-back delivery found Gabadinho Mhango who failed to pounce after his shot came off the back of the diving Edwin Gyimah.
The progression of the game – which ran under the scorching heat – favoured the home side as they started to attack with more purpose and had the clearest of chances to take the lead against the run of play.
To add, it was Pirates’ former captain Thabo Matlaba that should have broken the deadlock, benefitting from a well-worked defensive splitting pass from Lesedi Kapinga but the 32-year-old gloriously skied what should have been the easiest of one-on-one situations into the stands.
From one former Bucs man to the other, Gyimah stood in disbelief in the 32nd minute after his close-range bullet header from a Mogakolodi Ngele corner-kick was brilliantly palmed away, by one hand, by Wayne Sandilands.
From thereon, Lidoda Duvha started to gain momentum, looking as though they’d score with every attack into the Pirates’ half but their last chance of the half – which could have well rewarded their efforts – was denied by the woodwork following a direct close-range free-kick from Ngele.
Both teams had a revitalised start to the second half – Pirates testing waters with long ball from Memela and Thembinkosi Lorch. Lidoda Duvha, meanwhile, continued to build from the back, especially with the addition of Robert Ng’ambi in the engine room after a forced substitution for Pentjie Zulu.
As the temperatures continued to drop, Pirates started to find their mojo going forward, nearly taking the lead after Lorch rose highest in the box to connect with a Pule corner-kick but only for his efforts to be denied by the reflexes of Rotshidzwa Muleka.
But a moment of luck for Pirates and misfortune for Leopards, late in the game, ensured that the visitors took all three points back with them to Soweto as they continue to show a resurgent side under coach Josef Zinnbauer, who’s now led his troops to seven wins in the last eight matches.@Mihlalibaleka