Mamelodi Sundowns sent yet another clear signal that it will take something special to stop them from winning a record fourth successive league title after they grinded a 1-0 victory over potential rivals Orlando Pirates at the Loftus Stadium on Saturday.
Brian Onyango’s 35th minute header was all that the Brazilians required to open a three-point gap between themselves and second-placed Swallows FC at the summit of the DStv Premiership. Kermit Erasmus could have wrapped the game up for Sundowns inside the last 10 minutes but instead hit the post.
The defeat could prove a huge blow to Pirates’ title ambitions as they now trail Sundowns by a match and eight points after suffering their first Premiership defeat against a team that has maintained the form that brought them a treble last season.
There were a few notable changes in both starting XIs but neither side declared if any of their players were missing due to the effects of the second wave of Covid-19 that is currently ravaging SA.
Sundowns would have certainly felt better with the presence of their influential skipper Hlompho Kekana‚ who has enjoyed playing in this fixture and has scored some lovely goals over the years.
But it was the absence of talisman and top scorer Themba Zwane that striker Peter Shalulile missed most in the Brazilians’ attack.
Pirates played only their second league match without their number one goalkeeper Richard Ofori who was reported to have picked up a knock at training a head of the game. Ofori’s experienced replacement‚ Wayne Sandilands‚ was certainly not overawed by the occasion having been part of a number of Bucs’ clashes against Sundowns in recent seasons.
Pirates were not razor sharp in supporting Terrence Dzvukamanja up -front and at times had no visible striker having had to play this match without the injured Zakhele Lepasa and Tshegofatso Mabasa.
Also‚ Bucs coach Josef Zinnbauer’s decision to leave Gabadinho Mhango on the bench seemed very strange given the fact that the Malawian striker was the man who scored the winner in the first round league fixture between these sides last season.
Not quite a spectacle‚ both teams produced some notable opportunities inside the first 30 minutes and with better accuracy and composure by front men a few goals could have set this game alight.
Onyango’s strike came just when Pirates were in control of the proceedings. Ricardo Coetzee’s free-kick outside the area was not cleared by the Bucs defence and it went on to bounce off Ricardo Nascimento’s knee before Kenyan defender Onyango headed it home despite Sandilands’s attempt to parry it away.
Pirates looked to cancel Sundowns’ lead in the second half but the Braziluans used all their game management experience in such matches and in the end Onyango’s goal prevailed.
The introduction of Mhango 25 minutes from time proved too little too late for the Buccaneers who just couldn’t get the ball behind Denis Onyango in Sundowns’ goal.