Orlando Pirates striker Tshegofatso Mabasa not only underlined his quality as a goal-poacher of note, he also proved yet again to be the team’s saviour.
As was the case in the previous season, the 24-year-old centre forward once again came off the bench to earn his team maximum points.
This time, Mabasa’s solitary strike against Swallows FC at Orlando Stadium yesterday handed Pirates their first win of the campaign.
With local matches still being played without spectators, it would be no exaggeration if someone claimed to have picked up the sound of a huge sigh of relief from the Bucs bench when the big striker headed home in the 77th minute.
Crucially, the win was the first for Bucs co-coaches Fadlu Davids and Mandla Ncikazi since they took over from Josef Zinnbauer, who quit in a huff last month.
Ironically, Pirates kicked off the season with a first-round elimination from the MTN8 by Swallows, which was followed by league draws against Stellenbosch FC (2-2) and Marumo Gallants (0-0).
The Birds, on the other hand, picked up four points from their opening DStv Premiership matches, with a win over Royal AM and a draw against AmaZulu.
Unlike their previous encounter in the cup, in which Swallows had a slight edge at the same venue last month, yesterday’s Soweto derby was a balanced match-up until Pirates made the breakthrough towards the end.
The teams were almost on par in terms of the tactics they deployed on the day, and there were similarities in their transitions when they launched the attacks.
It was no surprise that Vincent Pule delivered the pin-point cross that found Mabasa.
The centre forward came in as a replacement for Deon Hotto on the hour when the game seemed destined for a goalless stalemate.
The opening 45 minutes did not offer much in terms of conversions, despite the tempo of the game having picked up considerably midway through in the first half.
Instead, play was interrupted by clumsy tackles, which resulted in seven players from both teams going into referee Philangenkosi Khumalo’s book, mainly for dangerous play.
Both sides came to the game with changes in goal – the Buccaneers handed goalkeeper Siyabonga Mpontshane his first start of the season in place of Richard Ofori, who was stretchered off while on duty for Ghana in the Black Stars’ 1-0 loss to Bafana Bafana in a World Cup qualifier at FNB Stadium on Monday.
Similarly, Swallows gave the gloves to Sanele Tshabalala in the absence of regular Virgil Vries, who also picked up an injury during national duty for Namibia.
Tshabalala (23) could do little to stop Mabasa’s well-executed header. In the end, it was Bucs who claimed bragging rights in the original Soweto derby in which team captain Happy Jele marked his 400th official appearance in a Pirates jersey. He joined the Soweto giants in 2006.