In the last 3 games Supersport United played against Orlando Pirates, Stuart Baxter has faced 3 different coaches, in Eric Tinkler whom he beat in the Nedbank final, Muhshin Erturgal whom he beat by 6 goals to 1 and Augusto Palacious whom he beat in the semi finals of the Telkom Cup by a goal to nil.
It was walala wasala; You lose, You are out! It was a different ball game. Some said it was a grudge game, pay back time. This was a game for Pirates to redeem themselves because the last time the two clubs met in the league, Pirates was trending on all social media platforms, even on WhatsApp, for days after the match that ended 6-1 against Supersports. It was after this game that led to Coach Palacios taking over, and the team had not lost or should I say, they had won all their games since then.
Pirates reached the semi finals of the Telkom Cup by beating Arrows 2-1 at home, and proceeding to beat Highlands Park by the same score line at home. On the other side, Supersport reached this stage by beating Ajax 1-0 at home, and their archi-rival, Sundowns on penalties after a zero all draw in regulation time.
Coming to the game, Pirates were playing a 4-5-1, which at times changed to a 4-2-3-1 formation, whilst Supersport played a 4-4-2 formation on a counter.
Coach Palacious is one of those coaches that do not like tampering with a winning team. So, looking at the line up, there was only one change from the previous game. In goals he kept Jackson Mabokgwane after a brilliant performance against Chippa United. Jackson came into the game highly confident because he is yet to concede a goal in the Pirates jersey. However, Supersport changed his clean sheet on the evening and Jackson conceded a goal, even though I believe it was not entirely his fault. I thought he did well overall. He positioned himself well, and where he needed to punch the ball out, he punched it safely to the sides. Supersport had 15 shots at goals, and 9 were on target.
In defense, there was one change as they welcomed Bafana Bafana defender Thabo Matlaba from suspension. This change dropped Patrick Phungwayo to the bench. Tonic Chabalala, Edwin Gyimah and Thembela Sikhakhane kept their places because they have kept clean sheets in their last 2 games. They had to be on alert the entire evening in order to contain the tricky, mobile and quick strikers of Supersport United. This meant Pirates played with no sweeper; it was a one-on-one situation most of the time. It was quite disappointing how they conceded from a long ball off Reyaad Pieterse, the Supersport goalkeeper. Michael Boxall flicked the ball on to Bradley Grobler who could not control it, but found Thabo Mnyamane alert. The Pirates defense was found flat, with Sikhakhane caught on the wrong side of Mnyamane who finished well to score the only goal of the game. The Pirates defense must feel very lucky that they did not concede more goals given that Supersport had 15 shots at goal and 9 on target. They struggled to handle a team playing with 2 strikers.
In midfield, the same 5 from the previous game started the game. But because the opposition were playing with the 2 striker formation, it meant Issa Sarr’s role was crucial and had to drop much closer to the 2 centre backs to avoid the one-on-one situation. I thought this is the area were the buccaneers were supposed to totally dominate because they had Mpho Makola, an extra man in midfield. But Makola did not use the spaces well. I expected him to find the pockets of space where he could hurt Supersport. Pirates came alive when Amigo Memela and Thabo Rakhale swapped sides, and Memela started to torment Aubrey Modiba with his pace and runs in behind him. Memela was the best player for Pirates in the first half, with 2 powerful shots at goal, and provided a cross on his weaker foot for Rakhale who could not finish on his less powerful foot in the far post. Ace had a tough time dealing with Reneilwe ‘Yeye’ Letsholonyane and Dean Furman, the eventual Man of the Match.
In the 59th minute, Palacious made a tactical change, taking out Makola and Rakhale and bringing in Thamsanqa Gabuza and Thabo Qalinge. This changed their formationto a 4-4-2. Qalinge brought some much needed energy, pace and skill to the buccaneers attack. He created chances and had a couple of shots at goal. I felt Qalinge and Memela should have swapped sides because towards the end, Memela was restricted while playing on the right. With 15 minutes left on the clock, once again, Palacious made a tactical change by taking out, or sacrificing Sikhakhane when he brought on Bernard Morrison. The changed switched the formation to a 3-4-3. Personally, I felt the technical team tried all they could to influence the game, but Supersport were just tactically stubborn, whilst Yeye and Furman worked tirelessly to keep Pirates at bay. Thabo Matlaba got a red card towards the last couple of minutes and that’s when I thought game over.
Upfront; Mr goals, or should I say King-Goals was the obvious choice, with 10 goals and 1 assist so far this season in all competitions – Let me reintroduce to you, Mr Tendai Ndoro, hail King-Goals. He was obviously frustrated in the first half because he was not getting the supply, and ended up dropping too far into midfield and drifting wide. This, according to me, must have made Clayton Daniels and company happy because he could not hurt them from there. Tactically, he was not as disciplined because he was drifting wide and deep in midfield. He was the one who ended up giving the final ball instead of receiving it. Gabuza came on to partner him but not much resulted from that partnership because Morgan Gould and company did not really give them a sniff.
Overall, Supersport deserves to go through because their players stuck to the game plan and could have won by more goals as they had good chances on the counter and on transition. At times they had 4 vs 3 situations and even a 3 vs 1 situation. Based on their performance, they deserve to go through.