JOHANNESBURG – Mbombela Stadium hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Orlando Pirates lately and coach Micho Sredojevic will be banking on his troops to break that hoodoo when they clash with SuperSport United in an Absa Premiership match at the 2010 Fifa World Cup venue today (7.30pm kick-off).
In over four years, Pirates have failed to beat SuperSport whenever they visited their territory - be it at Mbombela or Lucas Masterpieces Moripe Stadium.
The World Cup venue in Nelspruit - Mbombela - in particular, triggers some unpleasant memories for the Sea Robbers’ faithful as their team were humiliated 6-1 in November 2016.
That was a score and loss that subsequently formed part of the building blocks that ensured they endured their worst finish (11th spot) in the standings.
Moreover, with no place to hide, then coach Muhsin Ertugral felt the urge to resign from his post at the club on national television after the match.
And 25 days later, Mbombela was yet again a weeping place for the Buccaneers as they lost 1-0 to SuperSport in the Telkom Knockout semi-finals.
The fact that today Sredojevic is in his second season of his second stint with the club is all due to those misfortunes that happened there two years ago.
The Serbian coach makes the trip to Mbombela hoping that his troops will churn out the goods as they cannot afford any slip-ups if they want to consolidate their place among the title challengers this season - especially with pacesetters Bidvest Wits and second-placed Mamelodi Sundowns threatening to make the title race a two-team affair.
The Sea Robbers’ biggest downfall so far has been not having a regular goalkeeper as the jersey has been rotated between Wayne Sandilands, Jackson Mabokgwane and Siyabonga Mpontshane, while Brilliant Khuzwayo is yet to make his official debut since being signed from cross-town rivals Kaizer Chiefs during the off-season transfer window.
The fact that they are now third on the log, just four points adrift of Wits, has been due to their potent attack that includes Zambian duo Augustine Mulenga and Justin Shonga.
But at times, Pirates' resurgence has counted for nothing as their leaky defence has proven to be costly and they are currently second in terms of the most number of draws.
With 11 matches to go, a lot is on the line for the Buccaneers as they are in a race against time to bring silverware to the club following a four-year-barren run - their previous trophy was the Nedbank Cup in 2014.
Considering that all domestic competition titles have already eluded them and they can now only challenge for the league and Caf Champions League - where they are second in Group B with five points with two games to play - Sredojevic should also start to get worried about his future at the club if they don’t claim either of the two trophies on offer, or both.
Sure, last season was about reconstruction from their disastrous previous campaign, but the supporters and management will definitely grow weary if the team continue with their mesmerising football while the trophy cabinet continues to gather dust.
Moreover, with Sundowns and Wits scheduled to go head to head on Saturday in a top-of-the-table clash, Pirates know that they have to take the bull by the horns against Matsatsantsa A Pitori tonight to ensure that they keep their title aspirations alive.
But SuperSport will not be walkovers as they are also looking to go full stretch in challenging for the league, considering that they are still mathematically within reach, four points behind Pirates in sixth.@Mihlalibaleka