Tangle at the top of the tier

2011-02-12 00:00

THE early-season pacesetters take on their successors at the front of the pack when Mamelodi Sundowns travel to Orlando Stadium tonight to play the Orlando Pirates in the headline attraction of the weekend’s Premier Soccer League fixtures.

With just two wins in their last seven games, Sundowns have let slip their early grip on the title chase and ceded what was once a 10-point gap at the top of the table.

Spanish coach Antonio Lopez Habas found himself the target of the impatient Downs fans’ wrath as a consequence and quit last week amid allegations of death threats.

And Pirates have been happy to go steaming right by Sundowns and the other championship contenders, Kaizer Chiefs and Ajax Cape Town, with a run of five wins in a row that has been part of an impressive 11-match unbeaten spell, nine of those victories.

Once again the Buccaneers’ season under former Dutch defensive great Ruud Krol has been built on a foundation of stinginess at the back, with Pirates having conceded just 11 goals in their 19 matches, easily the least in the league with Sundowns second-lowest on 13.

Pirates’ football under Krol has not always been pretty or stylish in the form of the sophisticated play dished out by Chiefs and Ajax this season.

The Buccaneers play it pretty direct and are uncompromising and well organised in defence.

The most impressive feature of Krol’s Pirates has been the determination and focus expressed by the players in each game.

A willingness to shut out opponents with ruthless efficiency is what has seen the Buccaneers produce the most consistent form of the last 10 matches in the PSL, hence their ascent to the top of the pile.

It is the sort of determination that will be needed if Bucs are now to perform the even more difficult task of staying there.

“We have raised the bar and we are all aware that nothing short of victory will be accepted tonight,” said striker Thulasizwe Mbuyane, double goal-scorer in Pirates’ 2-0 victory over Sundowns in the first round.

“Our supporters have been promised league titles since the club last won the championship in 2002/03, but to no avail.

“Everybody in the team is aware that our top position on the log is fragile, with the chasing pack, including Sundowns, Chiefs, and Ajax, breathing down our necks, and we can’t afford to be complacent.”

Habas’s former assistant, Ian Gorowa, has taken charge of Sundowns in a caretaker capacity and started with a 2-0 away win over Moroka Swallows, but the Zimbabwean has his work cut out for him unifying the Brazilians’ talented but not always cohesive array of well-paid stars.

Pirates have suffered a significant blow with the injury, perhaps for the rest of the season, to left midfielder Daine Klate. But the Buccaneers have a quality enough squad to keep the ball rolling.

Defensive midfielder Andile Jali (21) earned yet another man-of-the-match award in midweek, this time for Bafana Bafana in their 2-0 friendly win over Kenya in Rustenburg, which would have buoyed the exciting prospect’s confidence ahead of tonight’s clash.

Chiefs travel to Rustenburg tomorrow to play Platinum Stars wanting a win to stay in touch with the title race. Amakhosi are five points adrift of Pirates though with a game in hand.

Chiefs have striker Kaizer Motaung Junior back at full fitness, but forward partner and league top scorer Knowledge Musona is a doubtful starter.

Last night: Santos 3 Ajax Cape Town 4

Today: Lamontville Golden Arrows v Bloemfontein Celtic (Chatsworth Stadium, 3.30 pm – live on SABC1), Moroka Swallows v Maritzburg United (Dobsonville Stadium, 8.15 pm), Orlando Pirates v Mamelodi Sundowns (Orlando Stadium, 8.15 pm – live on SuperSport 4 and SABC1)

Tomorrow: Platinum Stars v Kaizer Chiefs (Royal Bafokeng Stadium, 3.30 pm – live on SuperSport 4), Vasco Da Gama v Mpumalanga Black Aces (Athlone Stadium, 3.30 pm – live on SABC1)

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