But Orlando Pirates’ new-found defensive stability will be tested by Sundowns, writes Mihlali Baleka
Orlando Pirates goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands believes the newly-found cohesiveness among the players has been what has helped the team to improve their defensive frailties.
The Sea Robbers have shown glimpses being steady in the last three matches. They’ve bagged seven points out of a possible nine, while they’ve impressively scored eight goals and conceded three.
In the last two seasons, former coach Micho Sredojevic and assistant Rhulani Mokwena brought a breath of fresh air to proceedings as Pirates went toe-to-toe with Mamelodi Sundowns for the Premiership title.
However, Sundowns reigned supreme on both occasions as the Buccaneers were let down by the their leaky defence, while being pleasing on the eye going forward.
And instead of bolstering the squad with quality defenders during the pre-season, Pirates surprisingly shipped in a truck full of midfielders, who did little to remedy their defensive frailties during the early part of the term with Pirates conceding 20 goals in just 13 matches.
Enter Josef Zinnbauer, Sredojevic’s official replacement. The Buccaneers have managed to get their basics and tactics spot on – narrowing down their defensive weaknesses, while flourishing in front of goal.
“The team has been defending better as a unit. I think defending is not about the defenders and the keeper. As a team, you defend from the top, middle and back, obviously,” Sandilands said.
“I think as a team we are defending as a collective and that has been working for us so far. So, it’s a big positive. I don’t think that (defending from the top) was lacking in the past. But I think that the way we are doing it now has allowed us to be more cohesive together. And I think it’s been a focus point because we don’t like conceding goals.”
Pirates’ resurgence, as a team and defensively, will receive its first real test when they welcome champions Sundowns to the Orlando Stadium this evening (7.30pm kick-off).
The Brazilians, who are fresh from qualifying for the knockout stage of CAF Champions League, are second on the log, and hoping to narrow the nine-point gap to log leaders Kaizer Chiefs.
“Games against Sundowns are always difficult. It will be an interesting game against them. It is a big occasion in South African football, so it will require both teams to be on top of their game,” Sandilands explained.
Zinnbauer’s appointment was met with bemusement by members of the football fraternity, particularly by the Ghost, early in December.
Many complained that the 49-year-old was unknown figure with a poor track record, while some felt Mokwena was not given enough time to prove himself.
Amid that talk, Mokwena has since cut an unpleasant figure after being demoted back to the assistant coaching role. The 34-year coach gave a cold and distant reaction when the Bucs defeated Black Leopards 3-1 in Zinnbauer’s first match late in December.
He has also been absent from the dugout for the first two matches of the new year adding fuel to suspicions that’ he’s not happy at the club anymore.
“But coach Rhulani is still part of the team. But I think life goes on. Everyone is just pulling in the same direction because everyone knows the club is bigger than each individual,” Sandilands said.