Even with a new man at the helm in acclaimed former Platinum Stars coach Owen de Gama, the Orlando Pirates ship continued to flounder at Ellis Park on Wednesday night as the Buccaneers slumped to a 5-4 penalty shoot-out defeat against Benoni Premier United after a dramatic Telkom Knockout game finished 1-1 after extra-time.
Yet after 114 minutes of blistering-paced soccer, it was Pirates who were leading 1-0 via a stunning 92nd-minute headed goal from Lucky Lekgwathi following a Bennet Chenene corner.
A cruelly deflected equalising goal from the inventive Bernard Parker at this point brought Benoni back into contention and they sealed victory after Tonic Chabalala and Rudzani Ramudzuli failed to score from Pirates’ first and last kicks in the shoot-out.
Ironically it was a breathtaking save by Lance Niewenhuis from Ramudzuli’s penalty that proved the deciding factor — after the Benoni goalkeeper had only survived on a wing and a prayer and some heroic back-up support from co-defenders Beaufort Tshabalala and James Sangala during the earlier 120 minutes of play.
Niewenhuys raced from his goal in kamikaze fashion on several occasions in attempting ambitious, but futile clearances from high crosses, with a luckless Pirates desperately unlucky not to score from the resultant scrimmages.
All, however, was forgiven after the youthful goalkeeper’s final priceless save indicated he was indeed a player of beckoning promise.
Benoni, who were bought by a Swedish-based consortium and relocated to KwaZulu-Natal two months ago, have been hovering at the foot of the Premier Soccer League log for most of the season, but they provided strong evidence that they were heading for brighter days by drawing 2-2 with champions Mamelodi Sundowns on Sunday — deprived of a monumental victory in the process through a last-minute penalty equaliser.
And while articulate Benoni coach Roger Palgrem declared that Pirates were unlucky to lose, it took nothing away from his own team’s performance and ability to remain calm and collected after being outplayed for much of the opening period.
Benoni, indeed, were the more enterprising team in the second half — and this after losing forceful striker Serge Djiehoua early in the game through injury.
For Pirates and their supporters in a 10 000 crowd who trooped out of the stadium in apparent shock and disbelief after the final whistle, there was evidence that the chronic inability to control play in a calm and collected manner — even when seemingly on top — has not been eradicated.
It is, however, much too soon to pass judgement on De Gama after only a week at the club — although much-maligned former coach Bibey Mutombo would be excused a wry smile after all the teams’ shortcomings had been heaped on his shoulders. — Sapa