SOWETO – Orlando Pirates recovered from a first-half howler from goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands to claim a 1-1 league draw against newly-promoted Highlands Park at the Orlando Stadium on Saturday night.
Much is expected of Pirates this season after what had been a marked improvement in the 2017/ 18 campaign following the arrival of head coach Milutin Sredojevic. But the Sea Robbers were off to a nightmare start when Sandilands lost his cool at the back under pressure from a Gladwin Shitolo back-pass as he got himself tied up trying to use his left foot in an awkward position, failing to make any contact as the ball rolled into an empty net in the 15th minute.
Bucs looked to regroup and had a great chance 10 minutes later when the impressive Vincent Pule played in Paseka Mako with a delightful defence-splitting pass, but the resultant shot was dragged well wide.
Though Highlands Park's defence was solid, the Soweto side still managed to find a few openings, and after Mako had again fired wide, Pirates were unlucky not to grab an equaliser six minutes before half-time when Pule's free-kick crashed into the crossbar and back into play.
The momentum continued to gather in the Buccaneers' favour after the restart as they had more opportunities to draw level, but from a good position Innocent Maela sent a header off target before Musa Nyatama’s pile-driver flew narrowly wide.
The pressure was, however, to pay off for the hosts as a rash challenge by Lesenya Ramoraka on Augustine Mulenga resulted in a penalty being awarded, the spot kick dispatched clinically by Justin Shonga to make it 1-1 just after the hour mark.
FT || @orlandopirates 1-1 @HighlandsP_FC.
🥅 61’ Shonga (P)
It’s all over at Orlando Stadium as Thando Ndzandzeka puts the whistle to his lips and blows time on proceedings as the Bucs share the spoils in their league opener.
Pirates remained on the front foot and had another chance 10 minutes later through Mulenga, but from the edge of the area, the Zambian fired straight at Lions of the North keeper Tapuwa Kapini.
However, despite their efforts and the support they were getting from the stands, Bucs struggled to create clear-cut openings, the next shot on goal arriving in the 87th minute when Kapini kept out a stinging 25-yard shot from Mulenga.
Shonga should have sealed the win in added time but planted his header from close range over the bar as former Pirates coach Owen Da Gama saw his Highlands Park side holding on bravely for the hard-fought point on their return to the top flight after one season down in the National First Division.
African News Agency (ANA)