It was a number 6 placed Pirates that played host to 14th placed Free State Stars, at the Orlando Stadium on a rainy Saturday evening.
A quick look at the Pirates league form; it has been a disappointing run for the Buccaneers as they failed to secure wins in their last 5 league games. However, in their last Telkom Cup encounter, led by Coach Palacious, the team got their pride back when they won against Highlands Park.
Pirates was coming in confident, against a Free State Stars team that is yet to win a game in the current league season. Oupa Manyisa and the boys were ready, however, they did not underestimate the Stars when coming into the game,and treaded cautiously when stars approached their fourteen area.
A glance at the Sea Robbers line up on the day; Orlando Pirates played a 4-2-3 1, which they at times changed to a 4-4-1-1 formation.
Brighton Mhlongo was missing in the line up and upon asking the relevant people, I was told he had a stomach bug. So that created an opportunity for Jackson Mabokgane to apply his trade between the sticks for the Buccaneers. Mabokgane did not have too much to do on the day, but when called upon, he was alert. I liked his awareness, and how he communicated with his defense. Overall, a good debut for Pirates, coupled with a clean sheet will surely give him the confidence to continue working hard.
Coach Palacious kept the same back four from his inaugural game in Thabo Matlaba, Tonic Chabalala, Edwin Gyimah & Thembela Sikhakhane. Happy Jele was available for the coach after suspension, but only made it to the bench. Ayanda Gcaba dropped from the bench to the stands. I thought Chabalala did a good job by keeping Moeketsi Sekola at bay. I also thought he should have done better with the 3 chances he got against his former team on set plays as he positioned himself well, but finished like a defender.
Credit to him for getting in those good positions. Gyimah and Chabalala are brilliant man markers and physical defenders. There is room for both of them to improve their communication in order to minimize their sometimes erratic play, which we have seen lead them to concede silly mistakes and fouls. If this continues, coach Palacious may just be tempted to sacrifice one of them for Jele, who is one of the captains in the team, a leader with lots experience and an outstanding communicator. Matlaba and Sikhakhane are building great defense-offense-combo with their wingers in Memela and Rakhale. That said, I think they need to put in more pressure on the opposition wingers when they deliver crosses in future.
In midfield, it was the same five (5) in Sarr, Memela, Rakhale, Manyisa and Makola. I enjoyed the cohesion between the two of them and the fullbacks.
Memela makes Matlaba look good because of his tactical awareness. He knows when to cover, when to give Matlaba the line, or when to hug the line when Matlaba goes through the midfield- a marvel to watch their collaboration. As the rain started to fall, I thought Rakhale made an intelligent run to get himself into a one-on-one situation, however, his first touch let him down.
Pirates always look good when Makola and Manyisa dictate the tempo in midfield.
I thought everything started with them at midfield. Sarr needs to learn that with such gifted midfielders, he just needs to give them the ball, and keep shape for the team. Sarr must not try too many things, he must just win balls and off load.
I am happy that Rakhale and Memela are moving past defenders, creating chances and having shots at goals – We all know that Pirates’s strength is in the wingers.
Makola played well, and was later rested because he played 2 games for Bafana Bafana when Nooriden came on. Rakhale came out as Palacious was closing shop, and brought on Shitolo in the closing stages with less than 10 minutes to go.
Upfront, Ndoro with 7 goals in 7 league games, games, showed a lot of maturity on the day. He was patient when the midfielders like Makola, Oupa and Memela played combination passes in midfield. He held on to his runs until the last moment when they released him. Ndoro held his run on the shoulder of the last defender and received the ball between the 2 defenders! Which led to the lone goal. His quick feet, and good shooting technic got him his goal on the day.
But in the second half of the game, slightly tired, Ndoro took a wrong decision and went for the shot instead of making a pass and verse verser. Overall, a great performance by Ndoro who was eventually taken out to run down the clock as Gabuza came on in added time.
Thela Ngobeni was man of the match. The buccaneers are improving with every game, and the players are playing with more freedom, and they look sound and tactically aware under coach Palacious.