FROM THE STANDS
Rarely will you see frustration boil so viciously as it did at Orlando Stadium in Soweto on Tuesday night. The cause? A buffet of play-acting, time-wasting and scuppered opportunities.
The match between Pirates and Baroka was highly anticipated as an opportunity for the hosts to go level at the top of the table with Bidvest Wits. Three points would also bring revenge for the upset in the Telkom Knockout final back in December. A giddy mood spread through the stands as those prospects started to feel real when the whistle signalling kick-off approached.
But after it was blown it became clear the visitors had no intention of being participants in a special night for the fans. What they offered instead was a masterclass in football trolling.
Matome Mabeba’s sublime left-footed free kick did its job of quieting the crowd in the 13th minute. Its surprise brilliance was a shot to the jaw and left the onlookers stunned and unaware of the appropriate response.
The vuvuzelas turned up again, but they soon took on an annoyed hiss when Wedson Nyirenda’s men did everything they could think of to smother momentum. The end of the first half even saw Elvis Chipezeze penalised for not releasing the ball within six seconds — a true rarity in modern football.
But all that was only a teaser for the second half.
Bakgaga grabbed the ball at every breakdown. They dropped at every touch. Howls after tame tackles repeatedly echoed around the ground.
Chipezeze would play his part again when he collected an innocuous cross and fell to the ground after being shot by an imaginary assassin on the stadium’s roof.
In all seriousness, this game may have broken the Premier Soccer League record for the number of times a stretcher was called on to the pitch in a 90-minute period. It’s the type of fact only veteran commentator Mark Gleeson would be able to confirm, but suffice to say that spectators’ understanding of what it is to milk an injury was thoroughly challenged in this game.
Now, there are two ways of looking at it. Either Baroka are dirty cheats, or they’re admirable strugglers willing to dedicate every second to fighting for the points. Whatever your perspective, they got their vital draw that lifts them out of the relegation zone.
Vincent Pule’s leap after 80 minutes to deny them all three of those points was greeted with the most satisfying of eruptions. The release of that pent-up frustration was easy to get swept away in, even for the neutral.
The bliss would be short-lived, because the final whistle brought the realisation that this was an opportunity squandered. It’s no death knell, but Milutin Sredojevic would no doubt have relished the psychological benefit of looking down at everyone from the peak.
He irritably patrolled his technical area as his Buccaneers routinely failed to breach the Baroka box. Every now and then he would sit down and tag in Rulani Mokwena, who took his turn to bark at the team’s blunt prodding of the defence. Soon both had had enough and sat firmly next to Fadlu Davids — all three staring into oblivion, not knowing what more they could offer.
Three acclaimed footballing minds — and yet their charges’ inability to play the simple ball cost them greatly. On countless occasions, space was keenly created in the box before it was thrown away with an extra touch or refusal to play the easy ball. At first the added shimmies wooed Orlando fans, but even the Ghost have a limit on how much showboating they can tolerate.
This was a night that called for a rudimentary, hard-fought grind.
It’s games like this that would-be champions need to win, an occasion that we can potentially look back on in March as the reason Sundowns won the league so comfortably.
And so, as a bird fluttered above the floodlights and dropped a moth while everyone headed for the exits, so too did Pirates fail to make a lesser team their prey.