Palacios happy to get Chiefs, Sundowns out the way

2012-03-21 09:58

With archrivals Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns brushed from their path, Orlando Pirates caretaker coach Augusto Palacios says his side can focus on picking up points against “smaller” teams.

“Chiefs and Sundowns are out of the way, so now we can concentrate on the league,” Palacios said last night after his side’s testing 0-0 draw against hosts Sundowns at the Loftus Versveld Stadium in Pretoria.

“The league is very difficult. This was a tactical game. For my team to play two top teams in three days was also very difficult,” he added.

Despite an inconsistent campaign, the defending league champions remained on course in their quest to retain the trophy.

Only Sundowns, Chiefs and SuperSport United have won back-to-back championships since the Premier Soccer League started in 1996.

Pirates have come out relatively unscathed against Sundowns and Chiefs this season.

They drew twice against the Brazilians, while trading blows with Amakhosi, bouncing back from an earlier loss to win the Soweto Derby 3-2 at the FNB Stadium at the weekend.

Palacios had seen improvement to a side that started off his stint in charge with a 3-0 away loss to Santos last week.

“I’m happy that we corrected some of the mistakes that we made (against Chiefs) at the weekend,” he said.

Sundowns, meanwhile, held top spot in the Premiership standings with 41 points from 21 matches.

Downs have drawn four matches and won twice this year, after the long mid-season break, but those results have done little to cause anxiety for Dutch coach Johan Neeskens.

“I’m very happy with the way we’ve performed,” Neeskens said. “Even though we didn’t create as many chances in this game (against Pirates), we didn’t lose.

“I am not disappointed. We did not score against a team that is playing well,” he said. “There is still a lot of games to go.”

The Premiership takes a back seat this weekend for the Nedbank Cup Last 16 stage. Both sides have tricky ties, with Sundowns travelling to Milpark Stadium to tackle an enthusiastic but wayward Bidvest Wits outfit.

“It is very important that everybody is healthy in the team,” Neeskens said. “We want the best effort in the cup and still have four days to prepare for the match.”

Pirates square off against a plucky Free State Stars line-up, who will offer them a stern test at Orlando Stadium on Saturday.

The fitness of Bucs players will be tested, since they would have played five matches in 13 days after the Ea Lla Koto encounter.

Pirates will be without midfielder Andile Jali, suspended yesterday after he was red-carded against Sundowns.

“We will see what happens,” Palacios said. “Steve Komphela has done a fantastic job coaching at Stars.

“Losing Jali is obviously a blow, but that is the reason why the team signed 28 or 30 players. It will give other players an opportunity even though he is key.”

Elsewhere yesterday, midfielder-cum-striker David Mathebula scored a brace as title chasers Moroka 0Swallows secured a 2-0 win over league strugglers Jomo Cosmos in Daveyton, Ekurhuleni.

AmaZulu also bagged three points with a 2-0 victory against Wits at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.

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