The never-say-die attitude of Free State Stars paid off when Saitjheni Tsotetsi netted in time added-on to earn a hard-fought point against Orlando Pirates, whom Stars trailed for the better part of their Absa Premiership clash that ended 1-1 at a packed Charles Mopeli Stadium on Saturday.
A speculative cross-cum-shot by Dikgang Mabalane landed spectacularly in the back of the net to give Bucs the lead in the ninth minute, but a late surge and clinical finish by Tsotetsi in the 94th minute broke Bucs’ hearts as they were so close to only their second victory of the season.
Stars applied pressure as early as the first minute, but Moeneeb Josephs was alert and snatched a dangerous cross from the boot of striker Sthembiso Ngcobo. Siyabonga Mdluli tried his luck from 20 yards out but shot wide of Josephs’s goal.
The Pirates defence seemed dazed as Stars kept on pressing, but then the Bucs hit them with a surprise. After relentless pressure from Stars, the visitors won a free kick forty yards from goal. Mabalane’s strike looked harmless but dipped wickedly beyond the arms of goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene and into the side of the net to the astonishment of even the Bucs players.
The goal boosted Bucs as they held their own in midfield, with Thembile Kanono pulling the strings in the middle of the park. The hosts’ captain, Duncan Lechesa, battled hard as usual in midfield but his strikers’ anticipation was as woeful as their shooting.
As the half ended, the Stars players left the field dejected with only themselves to blame for the narrow deficit.
Stars came out with a more physical approach, but referee Abdul Ebrahim took no nonsense and showed Lechesa, Mweene and the robust Siyabonga Mdluli yellow cards. The latter was lucky not to have seen red after two over-the-top tackles on Mabalane.
With less than 20 minutes to go, Mweene had a chance to redeem his first-half mishap, but Josephs’s theatrics seemed to put him off as he blasted high from the spot. Mweene’s frustration showed on the other end when he pulled down a Stars player in his box and referee Ebrahim correctly pointed to the spot, but failed to show Mweene a caution, which would have seen the Zambian take an early shower.
With the game virtually over, Stars left-winger Ruben Cloete sent in an inch-perfect cross to Tsotetsi, who broke Pirates’ hearts with a clinical header into a motionless Josephs’s net.
The valuable point was celebrated by players and fans alike as if it was a win, but nonetheless a deserved point for the hosts.
Stars are a point behind Pirates, who have six point from five games. — Sapa