Orlando Pirates are expecting a backlash and a hot reception when they return to play Maritzburg United in an Absa Premiership showdown at Pietermaritzburg’s Harry Gwala Stadium on Friday night.
There was a lot of bad blood flowing between the clubs following Pirates’ controversial 3-0 win over Maritzburg in last weekend’s Telkom Knockout semi-final, played at Durban’s Chatsworth Stadium.
The tension started when the Premier Soccer League decided against United’s wishes to move their home cup-tie from the Harry Gwala Stadium to Chatsworth last Sunday for ‘safety reasons” but the League was happy for Friday night’s fixture to be played there.
This decision had United coach Ernst Middendorp hopping mad and he took his anger with him to the pitch. So incensed was Middendorp about referee Daniel Bennett’s handling of the semi-final, he lost this cool and was sent from the bench by Bennett before halftime, while midfielder Felix Obada was sent off in the second half. Both Middendorp and Obada were automatically suspended for two matches.
However, United operations manager Quinton Jettoo moved quickly this week to pour water on the controversy stating Middendorp had told his players to get over the loss and focus on taking three points on offer on Friday night.
Pirates spokesperson Mickey Modisane said he expected a physical reaction from Maritzburg, ‘They will be still aggrieved that we beat them and will have a point to prove. We expect they might try and use a physical approach on us.
“We have the Knockout final against Kaizer Chiefs next Saturday [December 4], but we will not be intimidated. The bigger picture is the championship and we need to keep winning league games to close the gap on the leaders, so we cannot field a weakened side or sit back against Maritzburg.”
Head coach Ruud Krol welcomes back his captain Lucky Lekgwathi, and fellow defender Happy Jele who return after serving a one-match suspension, but neither are guaranteed a place in the starting line-up.
The former Dutch captain was happy with his make-shift defence in which Oupa Manyisa and Rueben Cloete replaced Jele and Lekgwathi.
Also returning is Malawian striker Chiukepo Msowoya, who missed the semi-final because of returning late from international duty with Malawi.
Two other ‘forgotten” strikers, Katlego Mashego and Gert Schalkwyk, are also in line for a promotion to the starting X1.
While Krol believes in continuity there is also talk of ‘The General” — Teko Modise getting a rare run against United. Modise, once the hero of Pirates fans, has slipped so far down the pecking order he has not even made the bench in recent matches.
Second-placed Chiefs will rest goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune and winger Siphiwe Tshabalala for their league clash against Vasco da Gama at the FNB Stadium on Saturday night.
The duo are on two yellow cards and coach Vladimir Vermezovic is taking no chances of either getting a third caution and missing the cup final.
Vermezovic said Vasco would prove to be a good dress rehearsal for Pirates. ‘Vasco will test us and it will be a good warm-up for the final.”
Leaders Mamelodi Sundowns will host struggling Mpumalanga Black Aces at the Lucas Moripe Stadium on Saturday at 6.00pm in a fixture in which they are expected to collect maximum points.
Moroka Swallows head coach Rainer Zobel’s job could be on the line if the struggling Birds fail against defending champions SuperSport United at the Dobsonville Stadium also on Saturday.
The Birds have failed to win a match this season and have only one point from their eight matches played so far and another defeat could see Zobel heading back home to Germany. — Sapa