JOHANNESBURG – Champions Bidvest Wits picked themselves up from a horror show in Durban in midweek to produce something more pleasing to their fans’ eyes – their first victory of the season – when they beat Orlando Pirates 1-0 on Saturday.
This wasn’t just any win, as it came against an undefeated and rejuvenated Pirates side, and it should give Wits much-needed confidence going forward.
Both coaches were animated on their technical area for different reasons. For Gavin Hunt, most of his antics – shouting and gesticulating what his players should have done – was fuelled by anger following the Clever Boys’ poor start to their Absa Premiership title defence.
Milutin “Micho” Sredojevic, on the other hand, was driven by anxiety. Sporting trainers that looked like football boots, the Serbian looked like he would step in and show his players how to do it in the Buccaneers’ biggest test of how far they have turned things around from their miserable season.
Sredojevic kept urging his players to push forward as they were pinned back by Wits’ high-pressing game.
Wits pressed Pirates from the onset, clearly showing their intention of turning things around after they were humbled by AmaZulu on Wednesday.
The hosts chased every ball with intention, hardly giving the Buccaneers an opportunity to breathe.
They were rewarded with an early goal after Gerald Phiri was quick to react in the box after Phumlani Ntshangase’s long free-kick.
The Clever Boys didn’t take their foot off the pedal in a physical match of high mental stakes as it would have sent a strong message for the victorious team.
Because of those stakes, no player held anything back nor gave in easily. Ntshangase sprang into action after a late tackle from Thamsanqa Gabuza that looked like would end his night prematurely.
Granwald Scott was already kitted, with Ntshangase looking like he had snapped his neck. But the lad from Umlazi returned from the dressing room, after he was taken off the pitch on a stretcher, eager to get stuck into the mix.
His spirit, as well as Hunt’s chopping and changing of a winning formula, have been Wits’ biggest let-down in this campaign.
The main change that Hunt made last night was injury-enforced. Captain Thulani Hlatshwayo was in the stands due to a knee injury with the armband worn by Thabang Monare.
The Clever Boys showed resilience they hadn’t displayed in this new season.
It was crucial that Wits displayed this character in what was a frustrating week for the club that saw Hunt’s future questioned for the first time and the abrupt cancellation of Friday’s media open day, seemingly protecting the players from scrutiny.
The champions tag has weighed heavily on Wits, looking nothing like the carefree but hungry side that brought the championship to Milpark for the first time in almost a century.
The Buccaneers didn’t drop their guard like they normally did last season after a setback. They buckled up and were willing to take the fight to Wits.
But the league champions didn’t give them many chances to hurt them, as Wits bossed the midfield and limited Pirates’ creative play.
Despite a nervy finish, the hosts held on to collect three valuable points and register their first victory in regulation play in nine matches.
But importantly, they kept their first clean sheet as their porous defence stood their ground against a shy Pirates attacking unit.