Pirates silently lose ground in title race

FROM THE STANDS — Orlando Stadium

The man in the red overalls was not having it. He clutched his vuvuzela until the veins began to pop on his hand. His blows lasted so long you half expected pieces of his lungs to be flung out the other end. Nothing but hot air would emerge.

When those in front lingered too long on their feet he turned his weapon toward them — probably the crudest way to be told to return arse to seat. They reciprocated by flashing equally displeased expressions.

This fellow, with the faded white Orlando Pirates logo emblazoned on his chest, was in the minority. He refused to accept, after all the noise and build-up, that this was going to end in a stalemate. That Sundowns could get away with it.

For the most part the attacking intent on display was enough to sate everybody else’s appetite. The stadium shook whenever Thembinkosi Lorch broke down the flank; roared when Ben Motshwari broke up play and sent a new assault through the centre. These were Buccaneers that were fighting for their plunder and their followers appreciated it.

Orlando Stadium was a different beast on Monday night than the usual midweek fare — unsurprising given the importance of the top-of-the-table clash. Usually it’s easy to identify the personalities floating around in the sparse seats. You can tell who’s engrossed in the game, who’s easily distracted, and those who came for the music and good time.

But here, everybody melded together. Thousands of minds became one heart. Throbbing was a word that came to mind.

Amid the mass Pirates fervour, cliques now replaced the individual. Masandawana did their part to show up en masse. They took up almost the entire section behind one of the goal posts. Pitso Mosimane would go on to praise their effort after the game and rightfully so — the sea of yellow barely ceased to ripple throughout the 90 minutes.

A jarring dollop of red occupied a large portion of the seats to their left. The Economic Freedom Fighters had come to town. Whether they were there to support one of the two teams on offer remains a mystery — placards of Julius Malema’s face bopped up and down irrespective of the match flow.

The Pirates throng took little notice of these other bands. It collectively groaned as Augustine Mulenga decided to fritter away his space with unnecessary touches in the box; it later shared his pain when all he could do was sink to his knees when denied by Denis Onyango after fashioning the game’s best chance.

When Happy Jele furiously remonstrated with the referee, the crowd did what it could to back him — including, sadly, sending stray vuvuzelas onto the pitch. Victor Gomez, standing out in an unfortunate lime-green tracksuit, could do little in his role as fourth official to ease the simmering hostility.

The beginning of the end

In the end it was much ado about nothing as everyone went home relatively happy with their point and leaving the table where we found it at the beginning of the night.

“We wanted to win, to be honest we always win here, I’m not bragging but tonight was very difficult,” Mosimane humbly said in the post-match press conference. “Pirates is a good team. They played very well, we can take a point. It’s okay.”

That point is far more valuable than he let on. By denying the home side a win, he snuffed out the opportunity to erect a solid basecamp for their trek to the top. The initiative now lies firmly with Sundowns and Mosimane knows it.

The Champions League notwithstanding, their run-in looks favourable. SuperSport United in the Tshwane Derby is next on the league fixture list and the last daunting opponent. The following five games will all be against teams from the mid to lower end of the table. In short, the title is there to be lost.

Perhaps then the man in the red overalls, who appeared a little whacky even for a football fan, was justified in his frustration. We’ll never know but just maybe, in his mind, he was watching a finger silently slip off of the Premier Soccer League trophy. 

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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