/ 16 March 2018

Can Bucs exorcise their demons?

Even if we believe Bucs’ claim that they have no eye on the title
Even if we believe Bucs’ claim that they have no eye on the title

There was no mistaking the significance of Luvuyo Memela’s 73rd-minute predatory strike in the Soweto derby earlier this month. His pounce on Justin Shonga’s gallop down the left all but spelled the end for not only the game, but also Kaizer Chiefs’ title chances — setting the stage for a two-horse race to the finish.

The result maintained Orlando Pirates’ four-point gap from the top of the log and kept alive their ambitions of lifting their first league trophy since 2012. Solving for x in this equation is fairly straightforward: deal with what’s put in front of you and hope log leaders Sundowns slip up along the way.

Fortunately for them, the invisible hand of fixture congestion may just offer a helping nudge or two along the way.

The Brazilians survived an early scare on Tuesday evening to emerge 2-1 winners over the Eastern Cape ABC Motsepe League’s EC Bees in the Nedbank Cup — sending them through to the quarterfinals in the process.

Should they overcome Rwandan outfit Rayon Sports on Sunday, the challenging CAF Champions League also comes into play once more. Progression will bring an extra game, and this weekend’s missed league match will have to be accounted for as well.

League, cup and continent. It’s hard to see the door not being open, by a smidgeon at the very least, for the Buccaneers to edge in.

The Nedbank Cup won’t be a concern of their own. The Sea Robbers failed to sail through the fog at Cape Town Stadium on Wednesday night, and were sunk after Cape Town City’s Ayanda Patosi struck without reply.

Favours will matter for nought if they can’t handle their own business, of course.

By far what stands out when looking at the remaining fixtures is the tough away gauntlet that Milutin Sredojevic’s men will have to navigate if they hope to reach the promised land. Particularly, there are some demons from their past that await them down the road. These must swiftly be exorcised with zealous condemnation.

Their trial includes two trips down to KwaZulu-Natal. Golden Arrows are up this weekend before they test their mettle against AmaZulu in mid-April. Both will be games that the coaching staff will demand three points from. Bucs have produced a mixed bag of results against Arrows in recent times, but will be confident of setting the record straight come Saturday.

Ghosts of the past

Jeremy Brockie’s penalty towards the end of 2016 confirmed Bucs had equalled their worst-ever defeat, nearly 30 years ago. Muhsin Ertugral would resign in shame following that 6-1 thrashing to SuperSport United. Incidentally, they would go on to surpass that benchmark only a few months later against Sundowns — the image of irate fans storming Loftus is one that will never leave the mind entirely.

The rhetoric coming out of the camp of late has pushed one clear message.

Both Micho and assistant coach Rhulani Mokwena have been keen to stress that this is a club embedded firmly in a rebuilding phase, and that they’re still in the process of turning the corner.

Even if we believe Bucs’ claim that they have no eye on the title, the Matsatsantsa game will be an ideal one to illustrate that this is not the same side of the past two years. A win here will instil confidence that the project is on track.

But the 6-1 defeat aside, history is not on the side of the black and white.

Pirates haven’t beaten SuperSport in the league since April 2015, and you’ll have to go back almost six months further to find their last away win. What is in their favour is that the team from Pretoria have endured a torrid time this season and are teetering three points away from the relegation zone. Coach Eric Tinkler fell on his sword two weeks ago.

Should the title race go down to the wire, the penultimate game of 
the season could very well be its decider.

Pirates will need to reverse Wednesday’s result against Cape Town City in a province they have struggled in of late. At the end of January, they were smashed 3-0 during their visit to struggling Ajax Cape Town.

Sredojevic addressed the travails of highveld teams in the Mother City earlier this week, suggesting that trips down there are actually something they could turn to their own advantage.

“We know there is that possibility of thinking that Jo’burg teams struggle in Cape Town; it is true that the weather is a bit different,” he said after a training session at Rand Stadium.

“Coming from about 1 800m above sea level, you are going to an area where there is more oxygen. So, physiologically, you are at an advantage if you are at the place for not more than 48 hours from when the preparation starts.”