JOHANNESBURG – Orlando Pirates moved to the second spot on the Premiership log standings when they held Mamelodi Sundowns to a thrilling 0-0 draw in their top-of-the-table clash at a sold-out Orlando Stadium on Monday night.
Pirates knew that three points would put them right at the summit, a gigantic step towards claiming this season’s championship and a huge morale-booster ahead of their looming clash against Wits on Saturday.
But it was not meant to be on Monday as Sundowns had plans of their own – consolidate the number one spot before diverting attention to the Caf Champions League, as they’ll welcome bogey team Al Ahly at home in the first leg of the quarter-finals on Saturday.
The Buccaneers, whose only chance of winning silverware this season is in the Premiership, dominated the opening stages of the match as their strategy was to stretch the opposition’s defence, while hoping to create some space for their sharp-shooters in the engine room.
But Sundowns’ centre back pairing of Ricardo Nascimento and Wayne Arendse, who make up for their slow feet with their anticipatory prowess, stood their ground as they cushioned goalkeeper Denis Onyango.
Hlompo Kekana, the man who left Wayne Sandilands floundering courtesy of a halfway line shot here last season, nearly caused a repeat for the former, only to find the Pirates No 1 alert as he butter-fingered the ball away from danger.
That gave the visitors a sense of belief, with Emiliano Tade next to ask questions from a close-range free kick, with Sandilands wide awake.
Play opened up for both sides, but with Pirates enjoying the upper hand as their 12th man, the “Ghost”, chanted and rumbled in unison whenever they had the ball.
They completely eliminated the Brazilians’ choir, which led with a drum behind Sandilands’ sticks.
Thembinkosi Lorch produced a defence splitting-pass that found Arendse and Nascimento asleep, thus setting up Luvuyo Memela in a one-on-one duel with Onyango.
But a flying Lebogang Maboe saved his team from the danger.
The Bucs, who were denied a clear-goal scoring opportunity by Maboe, stormed over to referee Tom Abongile, who let the Sundowns midfielder walk away with just a yellow card.
Their follow-up from that set-piece didn’t produce any fruits either, as it came off Sundowns’ wall and sailed into the stands.
Both sides went to the dressing room still goalless, but the home side could have been at least a goal up had they not scrambled the ball in the Brazilians’ box in the dying minutes of the first half.
The two teams, who have been hot on each others’ heels in the pursuit for league’s honours this season, started the second half with caution.
But soon after, the home team would have to deal with major blows through forced substitutions of Sandilands and Memela, who came off second-best in evenly contested duels.
The Sea Robbers never dropped their guard, but they should have broken the deadlock and got the winner, only for Onyango to deny Augustine Mulenga with a point-blank save after the latter was teed up by Justin Shonga.@Mihlalibaleka