JOHANNESBURG – As far as matches behind closed doors go – with a bit of a practice session feel to it given the silence from the stands – this was a pretty thrilling Absa Premiership clash, one where Orlando Pirates ran riot with nobody there to see it.
Well, there were eyeballs on the game because it was on TV, but the Buccaneers fans (and the few Wits supporters that would have possibly turned up) were banned for this clash as punishment for a pitch invasion and violence more than a year ago at Loftus Versfeld when Pirates were humiliated 6-0 by Mamelodi Sundowns.
Gavin Hunt, coach of the hapless defending league champions Wits, had spoken about how not having their crowd here would negatively impact Pirates.
However, it was instead the opposite as the Buccaneers were three goals up by halftime and proceeded to add one more in the second to complete their biggest win of the season.
It was Wits’ worst defeat and perhaps a fair indicator of just how wide the gap has been between them and title chasing Pirates this season.
The opening goal would send their night here in Orlando into a never-ending slippery slope when defender Sifiso Hlanti knocked the ball into his own net as early as the 13th minute.
Luvuyo Memela couldn’t quite connect with a cross sent in from the right flank, but Hlanti was there to do the work for him and tuck it nicely into his own net to beat goalkeeper Kyle Peters and give Pirate the lead.
Then another calamitous error from Buhle Mkhwanazi paved the way for the home side to add a second goal, this time through an actual Pirates player in striker Augustine Mulenga.
The Zambian intercepted the defender’s poor back pass and finished like the true goal poacher that he is to register his second goal in a Pirates shirt (his first was an incredible long range thunderbolt at this very venue several weeks ago against Bloemfontein Celtic).
By then Pirates were in complete control, while Wits were in shambles and dropping further down the table. This season has been so unpredictable that the Clever Boys are as close to the relegation play-offs as they are to the top eight bracket.
Their woes were compounded on the stroke of halftime when Nazeer Allie, yet another member of the Wits back four, committed a foul on Memela in the box, leaving referee Victor Hlungwani no choice but to award a penalty.
It really was a frantic couple of minutes – a rout by Pirates and absolutely no desire or will from visitors Wits.
Justin Shonga stepped up to convert from the spot kick to give the Buccaneers a healthy lead as they headed down the tunnel, returning to add one more through Mulenga in the second half to make sure it was Wits’ heaviest defeat of the season.
Pirates still have somewhat of a slim chance to win the league with two matches to go, but only if log leaders Sundowns cannot get two points from their remaining games. That’s an incredibly slim chance of winning the championship, but the gap remains four points.
There is still a title race, if you can call it that.
The consolation for Pirates would be the fact that this marauding win here against Wits guaranteed the Buccaneers’ return to the CAF Champions League next season – sending a strong signal of intent ahead of next campaign – in front of a cheerful crowd that’s been eagerly waiting for silverware.
Orlando Pirates (3) 4
Hlanti 13 (og), Mulenga 36, 58, Shonga 41
Bidvest Wits (0) 0