It was the Nedbank Cup weekend; the cup of dreams; and the last trophy opportunity for the buccaneers this season.
Coach Kjell Jonevret made a few changes to the playing personnel for the cup game, but not to the formation. The buccaneers played a 4-2-3-1 formation this weekend as the game went on at times it changed to a 4-4-1-1 formation.
In goals, Siyabonga Mphontshane kept his place and I guess there was no surprise to that because he has kept two consecutive clean sheets in his last 2 games. He was very composed, looked relaxed and focused all the time. Mphontshane made a brave save in the last minute of the 90 from Mahlasela by coming off his line timeously. His handling of crosses is improving, and his decision making between holding and punching is spot on. It was a good game overall.
In defense, the coach seemed to have made up his mind on three players, namely, Thabo Matlaba, Happy Jele and Ayanda Gcaba who all started the cup tie. However, he seemed undecided on Patrick Phungwayo and Ntsikelelo Nyauza, as he keeps alternating between the two defenders; one weekend one of them will feature in a game, then the following weekend the other will play. This weekend, he played Phungwayo at left back, with Matlaba playing at the right back. At the end of the first half, Celtic had 5 attempts with only one on target. The defense was solid but a little late in covering for each other. I felt Gcaba was not tight enough on Celtic midfielder Kabelo Mahlasela’s goal. He should have pressed the ball, but he did not, which gave Mahlasela time and space to have a shot which resulted in an equalizer for Celtic. Gcaba was voted man of the match in the game. I think he was a deserving recipient. I would like to see him strike a better balance insofar as giving instructions to his teammates during play and marking. He is doing a remarkable job at the back, but in this game, he was caught still giving instructions. His intentions were noble. However, a little balance would be advisable during the game. Happy Jele is shining alongside Gcaba. They are complimenting each other at the heart of the defense for the Buccaneers. Along with his superb timing of tackles and leadership at the back, he seems to have added another important aspect to his game; after winning the ball, he immediately starts the build-up or spot a counter attack opportunity. The defense is promising, but they must stop conceding silly goals or soft goals.
In midfield, there was only one change. Mpho Makola, Issa Sarr, Abubaker Mobara and Oupa Manyisa kept their places, only Thembinkosi Lorch was missing. Thabo Rakhale was given an opportunity on the right flank. He had a nervy first half, as it was his first start under coach Kjell.
As a team, Pirates did not have a good first half, only managing two attempts and none of them on target. They were rushing in the first half and did not keep the ball for long periods, which was uncharacteristic of them. They played through the middle a lot or too narrow in the first stanza. In the second half and the rest of the game, they looked good, as one could see that the technical team corrected things during halftime. A good patient build-up between Manyisa and Makola before Isaa Sarr released Mobara with a perfect ball leading to latter opening the scoring for the buccaneers with a thunderous shot to beat Patrick Tigyemb in the Celtic goals with a low shot. The Pirates opening goal in the 54th minute was just a good indication of understanding between the midfielders, which changed in the second half. What I mean is that when Manyisa dropped deep, Mobara was intelligent enough to spot the gap that Manyisa left in the number 10 role or in between the lines and he attacked the spaces with vigor and purpose which led to the goal. There was a counter attack moment in the 70th minute where Rakhale didn’t recognize the 3 v 3 for the buccaneers which left Makola livid because it was a perfect opportunity to increase the lead. Rakhale started to relax on the pitch and opened up his creative bones and commenced to create chances for the buccaneers. Overall, a good game from him given that he has been out with injury, and he played the whole 120 minutes. All I’m gonna say about Ace Manyisa is that “captain my captain is back and bossing the game”, you are playing well baba.
Upfront Tendai Ndoro started as the main striker. He was starved of supply especially in the first half. Ndoro loses a lot of ball possession, which leads to the offensive thinking twice in terms of going to support him. In the 72nd minute, Ndoro was taken off for Gabuza. The former Golden Arrows striker had a good chance from a Rakhale cross, but did not realize he had time. He rushed and used his head which I thought was the wrong move because he had some seconds to spare. He should have used his chest to bring it down and had a shot. Gabuza later turned provider when he laid a lovely cross for Ayanda Nkosi, who came on for Makola, in the far post but he failed to punish.
Gabuza must be given credit in the way in which he created space for himself in the box. He went forward then checked back to create space for himself in the box before finishing with a well taken header. Gabuza reminded me of how well I used to finish with the header for the Buccaneers in my day. After all, “Manenzhe” is one of his nicknames. Well done boy, you had a good impact in the game, keep grafting and working hard.
Overall, the objective was achieved because the Buccaneers are through to the next round; they will be in the semi-finals draw on Monday. They did not have the best of starts, because in the first stanza they were rushing and played narrow but, in the second half, coach and his team stretched the opposition, allowing the wingers to stay wide, which afforded the rest of the midfielders the much-needed space for the patient build up and combination plays in midfield. Ace started finding the spaces in between the lines which brought the requisite confidence in the team. The substitutes were good as well. They really influenced the game. One step closer coach, this cup must be our 80th celebration present to the Orlando Pirates family.
Zwi khou ita Mabuccaneers, zwi khouda hone nga zwituku nga zwituku. (It’s getting there Mabhakaniya, slowly slowly).