JOHANNESBURG – The FNB Stadium will be a giant exam hall for Orlando Pirates in their biggest test this season against a Kaizer Chiefs side led by a former schoolteacher, Steve Komphela.
Pirates’ report card, eight games into this campaign, reads “satisfactory”.
They’ve shown promise but still need to apply themselves even more to be among the top achievers. The Buccaneers have been trying to move away from last season’s disastrous campaign by instilling confidence and improving the players’ mental strength.
“Coach Micho (Milutin Sredojevic) and (assistant) coach Rhulani (Mokwena) have been instilling a positive attitude since they came into the team,” Pirates captain Thabo Matlaba said.
“I think that what happened last season is water under the bridge now. We are looking forward to a brighter future.”
Shaping that bright future starts this afternoon in the Soweto Derby against arch-rivals Amakhosi. Bucs failed their biggest test before this clash, losing to the struggling, reigning league champions Bidvest Wits.
“As you know, whoever wins on the day is the team that wants it more,” Matlaba said.
“If you look back, Wits wanted it more in that game. We had chances but didn’t take them. This isn’t the first time we are going into the derby on the back foot. If it’s not been a loss, it’s a draw like we did in our last game against Platinum Stars.
“It doesn’t discourage us that we go to this derby without the best of form. We have been doing well, though.
“It’s just that results haven’t been forthcoming. These things happen in football. But we are committed, are not underdogs, and we are going there to play a derby and get a win.”
Despite sitting in third place, Pirates still don’t look like genuine title contenders as they are a work in progress.
Their wins have been slender, unconvincing with just one goal separating them from their opponents. It doesn’t scream championship contenders, especially their default setting of going on the defensive after taking the lead – driven by fear to not mess up.
But those slender wins are doing what the club needs at the moment, positive results to build on so that they can kick into gear once they are fully confident. But Pirates will have to be more adventurous if they are to get a morale-boosting victory today.
“I think that the Soweto Derby is a perfect platform to show how far we have progressed, especially since you saw in our last game that we had a number of chances, but we didn’t convert them,” Matlaba said.
“You can’t afford such mistakes in a Soweto Derby as it is a game of small margins.
“We need to convert our chances and then focus after scoring because we conceded straight after scoring against Platinum Stars. That’s due to a lack of confidence and commitment. Now we must commit and stay focused.”
Pirates’ coach Sredojevic is brutally honest in his assessment of the team, saying they are “far, far from being at their best.”
But the derby tends to throw the form book out in a test of mental strength that’s passed by the team that can hold their composure in front of a packed FNB Stadium.
“I expect that every single individual will throw his best on the field of play,” Sredojevic said.
“I am convinced that that investment will pay us back with a win.”