Bucs start long slog to overhaul archrivals

Siyabonga Sangweni is expected to play tonight
Siyabonga Sangweni is expected to play tonight

Pirates’ quest for 30 points begins tonight

ORLANDO Pirates begin their mission to collect 30 points in 10 matches today with a tricky clash against relegation-threatened Free State Stars at the Charles Mopeli Stadium (7.30pm).

The Buccaneers have grown in confidence since Serbian coach Vladimir Vermezovic left the club in December, Pirates going on a seven-match unbeaten run which has whittled away Kaizer Chiefs’ lead at the summit from 20 points to 12 in just a month of Absa Premiership football this year.

The Buccaneers are slowly giving title challengers Amakhosi, Mamelodi Sundowns and Bidvest Wits reason to look over their shoulders and another win tonight – which would make it five league victories in a row – will give them more reason to believe they can achieve what was once considered the unthinkable.

Pirates caretaker coach Eric Tinkler is unlikely to leave Siyabonga Sangweni, Lehlohonolo Majoro and Kermit Erasmus – who are all in danger of missing Saturday’s Soweto derby against Chiefs if they pick up a yellow card today – out of his starting lineup. Tinkler says he is more concerned about results and today’s clash is as crucial as all the others.

“Right now it’s important to get a win before the derby. Players get suspended. It’s the reality of the game. We have options in the team. If Majoro or Kermit is suspended, then we have Lennox [Bacela] and [Mwape] Musonda.”

Stars are yet to lose this year, but they have not won either, registering three draws. Ea Lla Koto, who are in 13th place, have to make full use of home advantage to ensure they open a gap between them and fellow strugglers Moroka Swallows, Platinum Stars and bottom-placed AmaZulu.

“I have watched their last four games and they have improved in the second half of the season. They have shown that they can grind out results. They came from behind against SuperSport. They are a physical team and we are going to have to match them,” Tinkler said.

Fourth-placed Pirates will miss suspended midfielder Sifiso Myeni, but with Majoro available again, Tinkler could go back to the two-striker formation after going with the one man up-front in the 3-1 victory over Polokwane City at the weekend.

Meanwhile, Kaizer Chiefs need to keep their eye on the ball and focus on the crucial three points they do not want to drop when they host Ajax Cape Town at the FNB Stadium tonight, striker Matthew Rusike says.

Even Ajax coach Roger de Sa this week has been mindful that Absa Premiership leaders Chiefs have the Soweto derby against Orlando Pirates at the same venue on Saturday as a potential distraction.

Rusike said for Chiefs trying to beat Ajax was as important as the derby. “As the coach [Stuart Baxter] said, this is three points and Ajax need to be given the respect they deserve.”

An example of how brittle Chiefs’ lead suddenly appears is that if they get distracted and lose to Ajax, and then Pirates beat them, Amakhosi’s lead over the Buccaneers could be reduced to six points.

And fourth-placed Bucs at one stage had even conceded the title.

Chiefs have four key players – Siphiwe Tshabalala, Tsepo Masilela, Siboniso Gaxa and Willard Katsande – on three yellow cards, and in danger of suspension against Pirates if they get one more.

De Sa believes Ajax could get something out of Amakhosi, especially if the Soweto side let their guard down.

-Tshepang Mailwane and Marc Strydom

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