Pirates sink Sundowns
Johannesburg - A 10-man Orlando Pirates produced their best display of the season when they routed fellow title challengers Mamelodi Sundowns 2-0 in a heart-stopping Absa Premiership showdown played at Ellis Park on Wednesday night.
Bucs were forced to play the last 30 minutes a man short when defender Lucky Lekgwathi was sent off by referee Daniel Bennett for a second bookable offence.
The result virtually ends the Brazilians hopes of winning the Premiership while Pirates have now emerged as the main challengers to dethrone defending champions and log leaders SuperSport United.
United kept their grip on the title when they defeated struggling Bloemfontein Celtic 1-0 at the Super Stadium on Wednesday night to move to 46 points - six better than Pirates who have a match in hand.
The atmosphere at Ellis Park was electric and the players responded by dishing up one of the best matches of the season so far.
The first half was a ding-dong battle that raged from end to end. Bucs right wing Dikgang Mabalane ran the Downs defence ragged. One hopes that Bafana Bafana head coach Joel Santana took the trouble to watch this classic and give him the break he deserves when Santana selects his squad to play Norway at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium on March 27.
Mabalane chased every ball and terrorised the Downs defence every time he was let loose on the right flank.
The 45 000 plus fans who watched this spectacle more than got their money’s worth. There was no quarter asked nor given.
Downs started well and Kurt Lentjies blasted over the Bucs crossbar from close range in the second minute.
Five minutes later Bucs strikers Katlego Mashego and Siphelele Mthembu got into a tangle inside the Downs penalty area and lost a chance to break the deadlock.
Downs' Bafana striker Surprise Moriri tried his luck but his tame shot was easily saved by Pirates keeper Moeneeb Josephs in the 11th minute.
Former Downs midfielder Benson Mhlongo had a header saved by Downs keeper Calvin Marlin after he connected a well-aimed corner from Joseph Kamwendo in the 15th minute.
Poor Benedict Vilakazi once the most loved Buccaneer idol who joined Downs at the start of the season was booed by his former fans every time he touched the ball.
Then the best moment of the game was a brilliantly worked training ground move which delighted Bucs coach Ruud Krol in the 22nd minute when Mashego volleyed home Teko Modise’s pinpoint free kick to give Marlin no chance with what will be a candidate for goal of the season. The roar from the Bucs fans was deafening.
The goal rocked Downs and they struggled to get their rhythm back.
A brilliant save two minutes after the break from Marlin denied Mhlongo a second goal for the home side.
But Pirates looked to have hit the self-destruct button when Lekgwathi was sent off by referee Bennett for a second bookable offence in the 61st minute.
However, the setback only made Pirates fight harder and the magical Modise slotted home goal number two after he was set up by Mashego two minutes later.
Modise’s killer punch set the stadium alight with Buccaneers fans starting to celebrate a famous win that keeps then in with a chance of winning the championship for the first time since 2003.
Downs substitute Katlego Mphela headed centimetres past the post in the 76th minute as the visitors tried desperately to get back into the match.
Josephs pulled off a brave save from a goal bound shot from substitute Diyo Sibisi with five minutes remaining.
A minute later, Mthembu went for glory and wasted a great chance when he should have passed to unmarked Mabalane inside the penalty area.
Downs failed to capitalise on 10-man Bucs and at the end of an exciting night they were beaten by a better side.