Orlando Pirates made several changes from the side that beat Horoya AC 3-0 last week Friday night as Xola Mlambo, Asavela Mbekile, Innocent Maela and Musa Nyatama were all left out of the squad altogether, and Thembinkosi Lorch was only on the bench. In goal, Jackson Mabokgwane kept his place as Siyabonga Mpontshane was not given a chance to redeem himself for his Telkom Knockout Cup final errors. Bucs switched to a 3-4-2-1 shape for this game, drafting Marshall Munetsi into the back three. In midfield, Ben Motshwati returned after a two-month layoff, with Linda Mntambo partnering him. Paseka Mako and Mthokozisi Dube were selected as wingbacks, with Vincent Pule returning to the starting XI in support of Augustine Mulenga and Justin Shonga.
Baroka stuck to their usual 4-4-2 formation, using the pace of Tebogo Sodi and Jemondre Dickens upfront. Talent Chawapiwa was left on the bench. So, Matome Mabeba was on the left-hand side, with Collins Makgaka on the right. In central defence, Abdi Banda partnered Vusi Sibiya, with Thabiso Semenya captaining the side at right-back. In the engine room, Mduduzi Mdantsane was only among the substitutes. So, Thato Madigoe partnered Goodman Mosele for the second game in a row.
FIRST GOAL KEY
This game was expected to follow the same pattern as the recent TKO Cup final, with Pirates dominating possession, and Baroka sitting deep and looking to spring fast counter-attacks. For that reason, the first goal was crucial. If Pirates could take the lead, Baroka would eventually need to change their approach and could leave holes to exploit.
However, if Wedson Nyirenda’s charges could take the lead, then they could play very defensively and absorb the pressure.
For Pirates, to concede after just 13 minutes was the worst thing to happen as Baroka now had something to hold on to and real encouragement. The goal came from a superb Mabeba free-kick, but not before Bucs had created a great opportunity. As Pirates played forward from the back up their left-hand side, Sibiya made a panicked clearance to gift possession to the home side. Makgaka had been drawn out to Munetsi in the Pirates half. So, Mako was free on the overlap and his excellent pullback presented Shonga with a clear opening. Unfortunately, the Zambian could not convert and his catalogue of big chances spurned this season was increased.
BUCS POSSESSION BUT NO PENETRATION
After the early goal, Pirates continued with the same plan. At every opportunity, they looked to play out from the back using a back three against Baroka’s two forwards to ensure a free man. Jele and Munetsi moved very wide to increase the area for Sodi and Dickens to cover and to look to open up angles to get the ball into their two number tens, Mulenga and Pule.
However, the back three found that their central midfielders were blocked off due to intense marking by their Baroka counterparts. Any pass from the back three to Motshwari or Mntambo either led to a backward pass or a transition for Baroka to look to exploit. With the Bucs duo unable to receive possession under pressure and then play forward, the loss of Mlambo and Nyatama was being felt.
Pirates’ best attacks all came when Jele bypassed his midfield and found Pule directly to dribble. The high position of the Pirates captain created a 3v2 up the right flank. So, even Baroka’s selection of two full-backs on their left-hand side was not enough to stop Pule finding space behind their midfield duo. Just as Pirates were starting to build up some momentum, Baroka made two key adjustments. Firstly, goalkeeper, Elvis Chipezeze went down with an apparent injury to give his side some breather, then a head injury to Ananias Gebhardt meant a long break and Bucs’ head of steam was ended. The other change was for Baroka to rein in their aggressive marking in midfield and rather drop Sodi and Dickens into their own half to close down Motshwari and Mntambo. At times, the “forward duo” were stationed 20 yards outside their own box, making it 10 men behind the ball. This allowed Mosele to keep a closer eye on Pule though, and meant Banda was not constantly pulled out of the backline to engage the Pirates No.45. Pirates had to resort to somewhat desperate attempts from a very long distance out, with Mntambo particularly guilty.
PIRATES THROW KITCHEN SINK
At half-time, Pirates made the first of three very adventurous substitutions to try and turn the game on its head. Motshwari was withdrawn and Lorch was introduced. This saw the midfield change shape with Mntambo as the deepest man, with Lorch in the right half-space and Pule in the left half-space in front of him. Mulenga was now further forward alongside Shonga. Lorch’s introduction certainly added extra creativity to Pirates, but chances still did not materialize. The next big change was taking off right-wingback Dube, who had not been at his best, and introducing Thamsanqa Gabuza. This saw Mulenga move to an unfamiliar right wingback role, but Baroka were barely attacking so that he could stay high.
After the mammoth efforts of Bakgaka’s front pairing, Sodi and the very impressive Dickens, they had to be taken off in the 68th minute as Talent Chawapiwa and debutant Rodwell Chinyengetere introduced. The addition of Chawapiwa added the dribbling ability to the attack, but only for the purpose of drawing time-wasting free-kicks. Baroka were visibly tiring at this stage, and their initially feigned cramps and injuries were now real.
With Bucs further going for broke by withdrawing Jele for Kudakwashe Mahachi – Munetsi moving over to right centre-back to cover behind Mulenga, and Mntambo moving more to the left side to cover breaks behind Mako – the goal finally arrived in the 84th minute. Mulenga’s cross from a narrower half-space position was nodded home by Pule. At that stage, Baroka had taken off Makgaka for an extra defender in Lesedi Mapheto and would have been particularly disappointed to concede from an unmarked header in the box. No winner was forthcoming as the sides had to share the spoils in an extremely contested game.
Both teams’ players and technical teams tried absolutely everything to win this game. Baroka defended their box brilliantly and had every player buying into their bus-parking strategy. Their players wasted time, frustrating Pirates and killing any spell of sustained pressure in the final third. Pirates’ players also fully embraced positional and formation changes to try to turn the game in their favour and maintained a positive attitude and their playing style despite the scoreline and the time wasting. However, Pirates barely created any chances with their possession and their issues in breaking down teams who park the bus has been a season-long problem. In this game, they could desperately have done with Mlambo or Nyatama to replace Mntambo as they chased the game. Due to that fact, Pirates created very few good chances with all of their ball possession, they probably did not deserve to win this game.