Orlando Pirates will look to maintain their league title challenge and improve on their dismal weekend when they host Free State Stars at Orlando Stadium on Wednesday evening.
Stars beat the Premiership champions in the Nedbank Cup — a trophy that Pirates held — on Saturday at the same venue.
Despite the defeat, Buccaneers’ coach Augusto Palacios was encouraged by his side’s fighting spirit in the clash.
“I am pleased with the spirit of the team as they were able to get back from a goal down and pushed the game into extra time. This is a positive sign,” Palacios was quoted saying on the club’s website.
“We just lack that killer touch but I’m going to work on that this week.”
Pirates are second on the table with 37 points, with a better goal difference over third-placed Moroka Swallows on the same number of points.
Stars are fifth on 35 points, fighting to keep up with the top three sides.
In Wednesday’s other fixtures, log-leading Mamelodi Sundowns (41 points) have a tough task in claiming maximum points away to Bloemfontein Celtic in Botshabelo.
The recent schedule has also had its effect on Sundowns, who rested a number of key players in Sunday’s 2-0 cup win over Wits to keep them fresh for this week.
“We have now played a lot of games in a short time and the most important thing is to have a good recovery,” Sundowns’ coach Johan Neeskens said.
“And then we go to our next game [against Celtic] and we will see who will play and if they work hard, everybody has a chance to play.”
The star-studded Brazilians are in pole position with nine rounds of matches remaining.
Celtic, eighth with 29 points, will not make it easy on Sundowns as the Bloemfontein outfit search for a top eight finish in the campaign.
Phunya Sele Sele were lethargic in their 2-0 loss to Chiefs last Wednesday, with the backroom staff blaming the team’s taxing travels.
“We drove 20 hours to Port Elizabeth played Maritzburg United and drove back, and then we played Santos before driving to Polokwane for Chiefs,” Celtic coach, Clinton Larsen said.
“I think the traveling took its toll because our players’ legs were out in the second half against Chiefs.”
Having rested this weekend, Larsen expected a fresher display against Downs.
“We’ll be a lot fresher, that’s for sure,” he said.
“But we are not going to fool ourselves. Sundowns is a quality team, but we have studied them.
“We’ve proven in the past that we can take on a bigger team.”
Meanwhile, third-placed Moroka Swallows travel to Atteridgeville to take on sixth-placed SuperSport United, currently on 34 points.
Should Pirates lose and Kaizer Chiefs draw, United could skip to third in the standings if they beat Swallows.
Chiefs, fourth on the log with 36 points, travel to Durban to take on Golden Arrows at Moses Mabhida Stadium.
Dressing room tiff
Amakhosi have a game in hand, which gives them the edge over the other challengers in the pursuit of the league title.
Arrows won 2-1 the last time the two sides met in the league, when Chiefs’ coach Vladimir Vermezovic had an infamous dressing room tiff with then captain Jimmy Tau.
Possible tension between the Serb and the players has been a focal point in the aftermath of that incident.
Arrows, who are 12th, have been steadily improving under former Chiefs’ mentor Muhsin Ertugral.
In other league matches, Ajax Cape Town take on AmaZulu at Cape Town Stadium, while Platinum Stars face Maritzburg United in Rustenburg.
Relegation strugglers, Black Leopards and Santos meet at Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane, while Bidvest Wits hosts bottom-of-the-log Jomo Cosmos at the Bidvest Stadium in Johannesburg. — Sapa