Even Mother Nature could not hold back her tears as Orldano Pirates FC took the field for the first time without Senzo Meyiwa in the Telkom Knockout Semi Final against the on-form Supersport United FC at Orlando Stadium last Saturday night.
Orlando Pirates took the field with three changes from the team Vladimir Vermezovic fielded against Ajax Cape Town in the Quater-Finals, with Myeni, Segolela getting a much needed run; and the much expected Brighton Mhlongo stepping up in the goalkeeping role for the first time since May 2013 when he made his PSL debut in a 4-1 drabbing of Black Leopards FC. Gordon Igesund’s game plan was no doubt based on the need to pressurise Mhlongo from the first whistle as he opted for a more attacking field with a 4-3-3 formation made up of Phala, Manyama and Wome in his attacking pack.
Supersport United took the lead from a corner when captain Clayton Daniels’ header came off the cross bar to fall for an unmarked Lebogang Manyama who side footed it into the right top corner in the 21st min of the first half.
It then took them another 15min to advance their lead when a Thato Mokeke’s pin point long range pass created space by eliminating Happy Jele for the speedy Thuso Phala; who played a cross hard and low past Mhlongo’s goalmouth to meet Dove Wome’s out-stretched leg guiding it into goal for the second in the 36th min.
The first half ended about three minutes after the linesman made a wrong call to judge David Mathebula to have come from an off-side position when he netted a third goal in the 42nd which was disallowed thus spearing Brighton Mhlongo and his defensive pack some blushes in what will no doubt be edged in memory as a baptism of fire.
The second half was largely made up of end to end football punctuated by a few near misses by both teams. But as OPFC pilled the pressure to chase the game in an effort to at least take it to extra time, it was not to be. Brighton Mhlongo will be credited with a superb stop of a ferocious strike after Lebohang Manyama sprung the offside trap and was left one on one with the keeper in the 73rd min. Other than that it appeared that United was happy to sit back and allow OPFC the ball while running the clock down.
Supersport United’s 0-2 win over Orlando Pirates FC ended what was a record setting run by the Buccaneers to becoming the first team in PSL history to play six finals in a row in domestic football. Notwithstanding the records, there is no doubt that this match was an important fixture from an emotional stand point for the team, as a win in this game would have gone a long way in helping the players heal after the tragic loss of Senzo Meyiwa.
There is no question that Monday night experts will have some questions to ask about VV’s curious first team selection opting to start with Klate and Erasmus on the bench; while setting a defensive pack made up of three out of four players over 30 yrs of age to stop what is known to be the furious pace of a United attacking pack. Questions will be asked about the absence of Qalinge, Issa Sar and Qaba who looked on frustratingly from the bench without getting a run.
If this was a match lost on OPFC’s overwhelming emotional meltdown over the past two weeks, or Senzo Meyiwa’s gloves being too big for Brighton Mhlongo to fill; or just poor tactical decisions on VV’s part. You be the judge of that.
Yellow Cards: 1. Erasmus, H. Jele (OPFC) and T. Phala (SSU)
Subs: OPFC – K. Masuku (K. Erusmus 45 min) T. Segolela (Daine Klate 55min) and Myeni (M. Masuku 83rd min)
SSU – D. Mathebula (R. Petersen 58 min) D. Wome (L. Manzini 82min) T. Phala (M. Diouf 93 min)