|Plundering the Pirates: Ernst Middendorp and crew|
THE full scale of Orlando Pirates monumental “bottom-to-the-top” campaign was painfully mapped out for the Buccaneers on Saturday night.
After that draining African Champions League crusade, Roger de Sa’s side were STILL in the fight for the Q1 prize until Bloemfontein Celtic turned up in Orlando.
But on a day of great entertainment – which also saw Kaizer Chiefs go top of the PSL – the mediocre Siwelele raised their game to new heights.
Coach Ernst Middendorp admitted after their shock 3-2 away win: “Look, I spoke at half-time to the players, our first-half was the best I’ve seen in the PSL this season. And I'm traveling a lot, I go to Pretoria, I go watch matches in Pietermaritzburg, and all over.
"We are probably one of the only teams really playing with two up front, we create chances and sometimes the best defence is moving forward. Now our back-four operates as a compact unit, and one of our secrets is that we were very solid at the back."
"Then in the second half, we showed that fighting spirit we've been asking for and I'm very very, very happy for my team. Today’s result was full deserved.”
And there’s Roger’s problem. Though his side learned a lot on their continental crusade, they return to the hurly-burly of domestic football with EVERY side in the country eager to keep the bustling Buccaneers below them.
De Sa himself accepts: “How poor was that? We were too relaxed. In the first half we were horrendous. The second half was a little bit better but still not good enough.
"There might be a little bit of fatigue setting in, and some of the new players not up to it. We have to throw new players in and Mbongeni Gumede had some good moments, but it’s still a learning curve.
“No excuses, they were better than us, they wanted it more than us, and we've got to do a lot better.”
It remains the case that Pirates could go on an epic journey from the bottom to the top of the PSL – if they WON all those five or six games in hand they could still sneak above Chiefs – but De Sa is now aware of just how tough that task will be after five games have earned them a mere seven points.
They don’t have another PSL game until they travel to dangerous youngsters Ajax Cape Town on the 11th, so they’re going to be rock-bottom for some time yet. On Saturday at 8.15pm in Mbombela they’ve got Platinum Stars in the Telkom KO final – a repeat of the MTN8 final they lost on penalties in Durban earlier in the season.
With the African Champions League and MTN8 both lost at the last hurdle, De Sa says: “I’m hardly delighted about that but at least we know where the finishing line is. It’s got to be third time lucky for us.”
I suspect he’s right. But a TelkomKO triumph will only prove a temporary solution. The PSL has rarely been more competitive. Being bottom of the table is no elephant in the room. It’s a raging bull for Roger.
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