8 April 2009 

United must stop red-hot Bucs

Title challenging Orlando Pirates will provide Maritzburg United with a huge test of their credentials at the Woodburn Stadium tonight.

BIG teams have come to Pietermaritzburg before, but none quite with the pedigree of Orlando Pirates, who play Maritzburg United at Woodburn Stadium tonight in the most eagerly-awaited Premier Soccer League game in Pietermaritzburg this season.

Kaizer Chiefs might be the biggest team in the country in terms of support and they have won the most trophies, while Mamelodi Sundowns are the richest, but Pirates are regarded as the founding club of South African football as it is known today.

And this current Pirates team, coached by Dutch playing great Ruud Krol, would appear to have the potential to be among the Buccaneers finest.

After a slow start under Krol, Bucs, the only SA club to win the African Champions Cup (now the Champions League), are chasing their first PSL title since the Benedict Vilakazi, Gift Leremi, Lesley Manyathela generation of 2003.

The Buccaneers’ 1-1 draw against Bloemfontein Celtic on Sunday means they are five points behind SuperSport and will not want to slip up again if they are to remain serious challengers.

This has added spice to tonight’s meeting against Maritzburg who, in turn, have won five league and cup games, and three successive league matches to move away from the relegation zone.

Twelfth-placed United now have their sights set on reaching the prestigious top eight, and an upset victory tonight, apart from most likely being a deciding factor in the title race, would increase the Pietermaritzburg team’s chances of finishing in the top half.

“We’re going into this game at the perfect time for us,” United coach Gordon Igesund stressed last night.

“We’ve won five in a row and the players are very confident. We’re playing at night, which is good for us because the supporters will be there to support the team. We are also going into the game under less pressure because we have moved away from the relegation zone, and we’ve got nothing to lose.

“We know we’ve got our work cut out for us — we’re playing possibly the best team in the country along with Supersport. But we want to try to win because we’ve got an outside chance at the top eight, even though that will depend on the results of the teams above us.

He added: “The players have been really focused in training for this match. They’ve worked really hard to get away from relegation and now the talk is about the top eight, which is very positive.

Everyone’s committed and everyone wants to play.”

Under Krol, Pirates have played some of the season’s best football. Their movement up-front, in particular, can take the breath away. On their night playmaker Teko Modise, mobile, technically correct striker Katlego Mashego and right-wing Dikgang Mabalane can dismantle any defence, as they showed in their 2-0 Nedbank Cup defeat of SuperSport a month ago.

United, though, have tightened up a defence that has conceded 45 goals this season, which has been the crucial factor in the team’s improved form.

Expect the home team to harass Pirates tonight at every turn on the Woodburn pitch’s narrow confines.

Then United will attempt to utilise skilful forwards Fanyana Dhladhla, Tony Tsabedze, Collen Zimba and Sipho Mngomezulu to get behind a Bucs defence marshaled by player of the season candidate Lucas Thwala.

Bucs have a few injury concerns. Siphelele Mthembu, the young striker schooled at kwaPata Secondary in Edendale, while a youth player at Maritzburg City, will undergo a late fitness test for a hamstring injury while left-back Innocent Mdledle remains out of action.

Maritzburg have a full squad available except for suspended striker Brice Aka.

+ Article courtesy of Marc Strydom and the Witness