Orlando Pirates players celebrate after Thembinkosi Lorch scored the only goal during their Telkom Knockout game against Stellenbosch FC at Orlando Stadium in Johannesburg on Saturday. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – Thembinkosi Lorch’s lone strike ensured that Orlando Pirates progressed to the quarter-finals of the Telkom Knockout after defeating Stellenbosch FC in the opening round of the competition at Orlando Stadium on Saturday night.

Pirates’ progression to the next round of the competition bought beleaguered, young, coach Rhulani Mokwena some time following an imbalanced run of form after taking over the reins from Micho Sredojevic.

Mokwena will look at tonight’s win and start believing that he, in fact, is the suitable candidate to lead the team out of the troubled waters that they’ve endured this season.

Much of tonight win though should also go to Lorch, who’s came under criticism having failed to replicate last season impressive form so far.

The Bafana Bafana international took his strike with an inch of perfection, unleashing a thunderbolt just inside the defensive line that sailed past a helpless Lee Langeveldt.

That was Pirates’ big reward especially after failing to capitalise on a number of opportunities.

The two teams started with a relatively cautious approach, knowing very well that any mistakes or clumsiness in the early exchanges of the game could prove to be costly in a knockout competition.

Pirates, though, dominated play from outset, the skilful Linda Mntambo, who was making his first appearance of the season, was the heart of the engine room as he combined well with Fortune Makaringe to ensure that their forwards tick.

Upfront, Tshegofatso Mabasa, who’s already scored four league goals in five league appearances, did all the running to keep the Stellies defence on their toes.

That approach, allowed fellow striking partners Vincent Pule and Augustine Mulenga acres of space to have a go at goalkeeper Langeveldt.

In the 16th minute, Zambian international, Mulenga, had the match’s first chance, unleashing a pin-point shot inside the Stellies’ box before Langeveldt made a high -flying save to keep his team in the game.

That save resulted to a corner-kick, that was well-delivered by Lorch but Mulenga’s header sailed into the stands.

Mulenga continued to huff and puff in search of the Sea Robbers’ lead but that moment, things just seemed not to be going his way.

At some point, he rattled the upright after benefitting from a loose ball inside the Stellis’ box, a chance that could have well put them in the driving seat in the first half.

From thereon, Pule took over the baton from Mulenga, but the former’s efforts equally proved to be in vain as the latter’s

The Sea Robbers started the second half with the same mentality as the first, keeping the visitors’ defence busy but their finishing continued to let them down.

However, a chunk of Stellenbosch’s resistance was owed to Langeveldt’s goalkeeping skills, as he came to his team’s rescue on many occasions.

In the 66th minute, Paseka Mako went on a one-on-one duel with the shot-stopper, who made himself big to deny the Buccaneers yet another opportunity to take the lead.

With either side failing to find the breakthrough, Stellenbosch’s coach Steve Barker went for a safer approach, throwing in seasoned campaigners Robyn Johannes and Marc Van Heerden.

But Lorch pounced when it mattered the most, giving the Sea Robbers faith as they continue to search for their first trophy in six years.

IOL Sport