JOHANNESBURG – What was meant to be the big test of how far Orlando Pirates have progressed from their miserable season has turned into an inquest on how low Bidvest Wits can go after last season’s success.
The Clever Boys have crashed spectacularly after reaching dizzying heights last season.
The Milpark-based club’s demise is similar to that suffered by the Buccaneers last campaign.
Pirates coach - or is it Dr Milutin “Micho” Sredojevic, after he compared managing the club to performing neurosurgery - not only diagnosed the problem, but also changed their porous defence into a solid unit that has been breached once in five games.
In contrast, Wits’ ironclad defence has turned to jelly. They’ve wobbled all over the place and struggled to keep their shape, conceding 15 goals in eight games in all competitions.
That’s seven goals less than the 22 they conceded in 30 league games last season. Wits are where Pirates were, while the Soweto giant wants to go where the Clever Boys were.
Pirates know what Wits are going through, strangled by a fear of failure that leads them to make silly mistakes. The Clever Boys also know how the Buccaneers feel, on a high and driven by ambition with nothing holding them back.
That will make tonight’s match, at 6pm at Bidvest Stadium, into a psychological battle with high stakes.
A loss for the Clever Boys would see Gavin Hunt’s grave being dug and the club’s confidence buried, while a win, which would be their first this season, would give their campaign a much-needed boost.
A victory for the Buccaneers would continue their upward spiral, taking their unbeaten run to six matches. But a defeat would be a reminder of how much they still need to improve.
That’s why “Micho” isn’t getting carried away - especially since all their victories have been narrow, 1-0 wins, without his team fully controlling the match.
“When you are in a process of, let us say rejuvenation and not rebuilding because this club has a firm foundation with their millions of supporters and 80 years of history, you work hard because you know what the supporters are expecting - not only to see a goal but goals and beautiful football,” Sredojevic said.
“We want to be more effective in front of goal to kill off games. We want to be as tight as possible at the back. We know what defence means in the marathon called the league.
“We want to have iron defence, creative build-up and sharp attack. We are on the right track but we are still a bit far from where we want to go.
Sredojevic continued: “We want to satisfy the standards that our supporters have put in front of us. The biggest power of any human being is making other human beings happy. Our supporters are not called Happy People by accident.
"We want to stretch ourselves to make them happy. How far we shall reach? I have no magic stick to see in advance what will happen.”
While the Buccaneers are aboard a train that’s taking them to a happy place, Wits will be eager to jump off.