Orlando Pirates announced their genuine Absa Premiership title credentials, and did so enjoying a healthy dollop of revenge, outwitting Mamelodi Sundowns 3-1 at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Ntsikelelo Nyauza and Mpho Makola’s second and 17th-minute strikes gave Pirates the lead, Percy Tau pulling one back in the 38th in a storming first-half from both teams.
With the match wearing on, and Downs pushing to equalise, Luvuyo Memela produced an 83rd-minute winner for a Bucs side rewarded for a brave and clever gameplan.
The match – as this fixture so often is, producing fireworks such as last year’s 6-1 to Downs here and accompanying pitch invasion – was a spectacle.
Fans lament that not all games in the PSL can be like Sundowns-Pirates. But if they were the league might have to fund a special insurance plan for supporters perishing from a high rate of heart attacks.
The blistering pace, contrasting styles of Sundowns’ tiki-taka pitched against a direct Pirates, and mind-blowing rate of chances created at either end, especially in the first half at a hot Loftus Versfeld, would have left even those in the stands struggling for their breath.
This rejuvenated, far more competitive Pirates – unrecognisable from that six-goal embarrassment just under a year ago – have had stretches this season without wins. These were largely due to missed chances, but also sometimes the approach instructed by coach Milutin Sredojevic, coming out conservatively at home and trying to protect 1-0 leads away.
But Pirates’ 3-1 home win against Baroka FC on Wednesday had breathed life into title ambitions. Bucs knew another win in a six-pointer against the leaders, would do so even further.
Pirates had little to lose taking an away game to the Brazilians. And they did that very well.
The procession of chances in the first half came at a bewildering pace.
Pirates probed first, earning a corner from which Musa Nyatama swung in a low cross that saw Luvuyo Memela’s shot blocked and Nyauza sweep the loose ball in.
Then Sundowns piled on the chances, Themba Zwane’s close shot looping over off a prostate Abbubaker Mobara, and from the resultant corner Tiyani Mabunda’s volley saved by Jackson Mabokgwane.
Pirates were in deadly, no-nonsense mood going in the other direction. A stray pass from Motjeka Madisha was intercepted by Justin Shonga who backheeled to find Makola, who slammed home low and hard from outside the box to make it 2-0.
In a fine movement by Downs Sibusiso Vilakazi fed Oupa Manyisa inside, Tebogo Langerman taking the ball through to shoot low and wide.
Mabokgwane’s kick from his area set Memela free alone, beating offside, who lifted the ball over Onyango, but also goal.
Where Pirates were direct, Sundowns picked chances, and finally scored as Tau found Themba Zwane on the right of Bucs’ area and made the run for the return pass, side-footing past Mabokgwane.
Pirates’ lead, overall, seemed a deserved, though, for the manner in which their pace at times embarassed Downs’ defence, such as three minutes before the break where, with Brazilians defenders scattered on the ground, Memela’s shot thundered off the upright.
Both teams tightened up defensively in the second half, so both had to work harder to pry openings, such as when Makola, from the goalline, fed substitute Thembinkosi Lorch to hit the side-netting.
In the 65th Tau’s header from the edge of the box snuck through for substitute Anthony Laffor to have a gift in front of goal, and spurn it, blasting high.
Downs had most of the possession as the game wore on. But Bucs intelligently and stubbornly defended their lead.
And with the home team pressing forward, their could always be the chance the other way, materialising when Lorch’s pass picked out Memela to produce a fine strike into the top-right corner.