This was a game billed all week as a potential cracker, a vital encounter in the Absa Premiership title race, with both Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs far enough behind Mamelodi Sundowns in the race for glory that going all-out for victory was the only real option.
Given the recent history of the derby, however, it was still reasonable to be a little cautious, to worry this might yet be another of those tedious stalemates that have been served up at the majority of recent derbies. Thankfully, it did not happen, though Kaizer Chiefs fans may not agree as it was Orlando Pirates who stormed to the three points with a barrage of goals that are becoming a healthy habit for Milutin Sredojevic’s men.
Sredojevic, along with his wily assistant Rhulani Mokwena, has built a Buccaneers side the Ghost can be proud of again, no small achievement given the dross served up by Pirates in the 2016/17 campaign, as they finished outside the top eight for the first time in the Premier Soccer League era. The Pirates coach’s joker in the pack was actually the man he did not put in his starting line-up, against all expectations, in Luvuyo Memela.
Whether it was by intent or accident, Memela proved effective as an impact substitute, coming off the bench at half-time to put the game in Pirates’ favour with a brilliant double. Chiefs also played their part in a pulsating encounter. If Leonardo Castro had buried his second headed chance of the match, as he had his first when Chiefs were only 2-1 down, who knows what could have happened, but Steve Komphela’s substitutes were certainly not as effective as Memela, and in the end Pirates won this game going away.
This was no one-off either, but another fine result in an incredible year for Pirates so far, particularly in front of goal, where they have scored 20 times in nine matches, and that includes their one awful result, a 3-0 loss at Ajax Cape Town.
Pirates have emerged as the main challengers to Mamelodi Sundowns in the title race, and they have an added advantage in that they are not involved in continental competition this year, while Sundowns headed off to Rwanda straight after their Friday night win at AmaZulu, as they bid to go again into the group stages of the Caf Champions League.
Masandawana’s involvement in the Champions League means that by the time they play their next league match on April 4, the gap on Pirates could well have been reduced from four points to one. Bucs go to Golden Arrows next in the league on March 17, a team they have beaten in 17 of their last 20 meetings in all competitions. Given the current form of the two sides, surely the Buccaneers will win again, which will heap the pressure on Pitso Mosimane’s men.
Then again, Sundowns are a side that know all about how to cope with the pressure and win titles, while if a coach has a squad to cope with campaigning in Africa and domestically, it is Pitso Mosimane. Either way, we look to be in for a thrilling finale, which looked unlikely at the start of the year, when Sundowns seemed to be running away with it.