Pirates increase their lead
Johannesburg - Orlando Pirates stretched their lead at the top of the Absa Premiership table to three points after beating Maritzburg United 3-1 at Orlando Stadium on Wednesday night.
The win for the Buccaneers came at a crucial time with their closest challengers for the title, Ajax Cape Town and Kaizer Chiefs, playing to a loss and a draw in their respective midweek matches.
The Buccaneers now carry 49 points after 23 matches while Ajax and Chiefs have 46 and 44 points respectively.
Pirates went to the half-time break 1-0 ahead courtesy of a 35th minute header from striker Ndumiso Mabena before their defence went napping for United to find an equalizer through striker Rudolf Bester four minutes after the interval.
With the KwaZulu-Natalians thinking of a crucial point to ease their relegation woes, back-from-suspension winger Tlou Segolela splendidly curled his shot past the outstretched hands of goalkeeper Shu-aib Walters in the 88th minute before late substitute, midfielder Isaac Chansa completed a late surge in the 90th minute after being put through by Segolela.
Pirates entered the game with three changes from the team that played to a 1-1 draw against Chiefs at the weekend with Mabena, defender Robyn Johannes and Segolela replacing the suspended duo of Happy Jele and Thulasizwe Mbuyane with midfielder Isaac Chansa dropping to the bench.
It was Segolela who found the first clear cut chance of the encounter, but finished weakly from a cross on the left by Mabena in the 12th minute.
Mabena ballooned his effort a minute later before forcing United goalkeeper Shuaib Walters to splendidly tip his shot over the bar shortly before half-time.
While the Team of Choice rarely raised a threat in the first half, they came to life after the break after their coach Ernst Middendorp showed his intention of pressing forward by bringing on striker Diyo Sibisi for the ineffective Felix Obada.
This was rewarded with Bester scoring his eighth goal of the season, and coming agonisingly close to a brace after 66 minutes with his shot being cleared off the line by the panicking Pirates defence.
But it was Pirates who missed a chance to net a winner five minutes later when striker Bongani Ndulula -- on for Katlego Mashego shortly after half-time -- blasted his shot across the face of the goal.
However, they will feel that they had two strong cases for penalties in the dying minutes from a handball and later for Segolela being hacked in the box that were both turned down by referee Harry Lekitlane.
United remain in 14th place on the table with 21 points from their 23 matches.