Pirates have lots to prove against Wits

2008-02-16 00:00

WITS University’s quiet progression to second place in the Premier Soccer League has added spice to their clash with Orlando Pirates at Ellis Park tonight.

Pirates, who showed signs of a strong revival in a short space of time after Owen Da Gama replaced Bibey Mutombo as coach in September, ended the first half of the season in seventh place with a 1-0 defeat against AmaZulu.

The Bucs have started brightly since returning from the league’s six-week break during the African Nations Cup, beating Moroka Swallows 3-0 in their first match back on Wednesday. This setback has seen the Birds slip from fifth to seventh, and coach Ian Gorowa has bemoaned the fact that the break upset the rhythm of his team, who were just beginning to hit their stride in December.

For Pirates the victory meant a jump back up to fifth, where — despite caution from Da Gama, who says the emphasis for this season is rebuilding — the Buccaneers are well poised as the best-placed of South Africa’s big three to make a bid for the title.

Mamelodi Sundowns, in ninth place and eight points off leaders Ajax Cape Town, will need to put their off-the-field troubles behind them quickly and shake off some lethargic form if they are to stand a chance of a late rally to defend their title.

Kaizer Chiefs, whose bad end to the first half of the season went to worse at the start of the second half with a 1-0 defeat against Thanda Royal Zulu, have slipped to an unthinkable 13th position. Damage limitation appears to be the aim for the rest of the season for coach Muhsin Ertugral.

Chiefs have another tough fixture this weekend, against Jomo Cosmos in Orkney tomorrow. Sundowns are away in Africa, where they were to play Miembeni SC of Zanzibar late last night.

Pirates, meanwhile, face a tough challenge against a Wits team who have been resurgent since the return of coach Roger De Sa from Santos. The “Clever Boys” started their second half of the season with a 2-0 win at home to Cosmos on Wednesday, thanks to two headed goals by defender Ashraf Hendricks.

Hendricks has been a star player for Wits, earning a call-up to the Bafana Bafana squad that did duty against Canada in November. The students, however, will miss another of their leading performers, technically sound and impressive Zambian left midfielder Noah Chivuta, who was red-carded against Cosmos and is suspended.

Pirates’ goalscorers against Swallows included new signing Gilbert Mushangazhike. The chunky Zimbabwean and former Manning Rangers striker, who has been playing in China for five years, was signed by Bucs owner Irvin Khoza without consultation with Da Gama, but he could prove a good acquisition.

The other scorers were star midfielder Teko Modise and Excellent Walaza. Both have no doubt been bolstered by their experience with the Bafana Bafana squad at the Nations Cup, Modise playing in all three matches and young striker Walaza as a bench-warmer and budding prospect.

Bucs captain Lehlohonolo Seema, who was stretchered off against Swallows after a clash of heads and taken to hospital, said the victory was one of the sweetest of the season for the Bucs.

“I really don’t know what happened. The only thing that I remember was going up for the ball against a Swallows player and suddenly everything turned black. The next thing I was in hospital and was told I had fainted trying to get back into play,” the Pirates captain said after being discharged.

“That we beat Moroka Swallows so convincingly is a sign that we are in mean mood and serious challengers for the league honours. We played well as a unit and I am happy we didn’t concede a goal.

“It was a well-deserved win and a perfect Valentine’s present to our supporters.”

For Pirates, a victory would be a confidence boost ahead of their crunch game against Mamelodi Sundowns at Johannesburg Stadium on Wednesday. Apart from Seema, star winger Bennet Chenene is doubtful for the Bucs, with a thigh injury.

In other matches this weekend, Lamontville Golden Arrows, who returned from the break with a 2-0 defeat away to Platinum Stars, will aim to bounce back against Free State Stars at King Zwelithini Stadium in Umlazi this afternoon.

Thanda, complete with new signing Scara Ngobese from Chiefs, play SuperSport United at Princess Magogo Stadium in KwaMashu.

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