JOHANNESBURG - SuperSport United continue their slow race to catching up with Absa Premiership title rivals on Tuesday night when they visit Orlando Pirates, who, until last week, had not won a league match in six outings.
Such is the inconsistency this season that the Buccaneers still somehow managed to claw their way up to second place on the log following their narrow win over Bloemfontein Celtic two weekends ago.
SuperSport are looking to make the most of their six games in hand as a result of their CAF Confederation Cup commitment – a tournament in which they reached the final, but lost out to defending champions TP Mazembe over two legs.
Here we compare Pirates and SuperSport, their coaches, squads and players they can count on to mount a convincing title challenge in a rather unpredictable 2017-18 campaign.
Coach: Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic
Honours: Ugandan Premier League (3), Uganda Cup, CECAFA Clubs Cup, Ethiopian Premier League (4), Ethiopian Super Cup (2), Sudan Premier League, Sudan Cup
Squad at Pirates - After two disastrous seasons the Buccaneers needed a make-over and sort of got one in the form of a new goalkeeper, a leftback and two central midfielders. But they failed to buy a striker with a proven goal scoring record. For all their hard work and (in the words of coach ‘Micho’) creative build-up, Pirates have experienced an incredible goal drought that’s led to them netting nine goals in 12 games. SuperSport have scored as many despite having played only six matches.
‘Micho’ influence - The Serbian has been an enormous upgrade on the little known Kjell Jonevret, who spent only six months at the Soweto club even though he’d signed a three-year contract. Sredojevic is in his second spell with Pirates and very determined to prove that he has grown since he was first in charge a decade ago. His long list of accolades in different African countries support the argument that he is a true scholar of the game. Obviously some criticism has come his way seeing that he has already missed out on the MTN8 and Telkom Knockout this season, making the league a priority. He’s got his work cut out, however.
Who can he trust? - It’s been a low scoring season so far, and while PSL strikers should be under the microscope for their poor finishing, Pirates’ new-look defence should claim some credit, too. Among the teams with 12 games in the bag, the Buccaneers measure up quite well despite conceding eight goals.
Coach: Eric Tinkler
Honours: 2016 Telkom Knockout, 2017 MTN8
Squad at SuperSport - The ginger-haired coach has said himself that the club’s playing personnel will be truly tested in the coming weeks following the end of their Confederation Cup journey two weekends ago. In fact, Tinkler was quick to make several changes a few days later in their league win over Ajax Cape Town. He will want to have his best side out against Pirates to get the three points needed to catch-up and aim for the top of the table spot that’s been occupied by the less fancied Baroka FC.
Tinkler influence - They way the former Bafana Bafana midfielder has worked his way up the coaching ranks appears to be an inspiration to his players. SuperSport have hardly put a foot wrong since he arrived and their MTN8 triumph is evidence to this. Now that the focus has completely shifted to the league title race, much of the attention will also be on the coach, who gave the championship chase a real go with Cape Town City last season and is expected to improve given he now has a better squad overall.
Who can he trust? - Tinkler has done well not to sideline the experienced players at the club even when he has continued to show faith in young Teboho Mokoena and Sipho Mbule. The formula seems to be working to the extent that even striker Jeremy Brockie remains a key player for the club although he was so close to the exit door just four months ago.
Match venue: Orlando Stadium. Kick-off: 7.30pm.