Orlando Pirates (1) 2
Ndulula 4, Bester 90+1
Jomo Cosmos (1) 1
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a character well associated with the head of Santa’s sleigh at Christmas time, taking gifts around the world. Well, at Easter time in Orlando on Sunday, it was another Rudolf, Bester of Orlando Pirates, handing out the gifts to Buccaneers fans, his rocket sending them three points clear at the top of the Absa Premiership.
Bester has hardly done much to impress in this Pirates career, but this was truly the stuff of fairy tales, and, some would say, the stuff that titles are made of.
Pirates were meandering as time ticked away against rock-bottom Cosmos, and even lucky not to be behind after referee Thabo Nkosi ignored Ezenkosi shouts for a second half penalty.
But in injury time, Bester stepped up, and lashed an absolute cracker beyond the flailing Avril Phali. It was a far better way to be remembered for a game against Cosmos than his blatant dive, that won a penalty in the first round clash in Port Elizabeth at the end of October. Pirates specialised in late goals last season, and it is a habit that might just bring them glory again this campaign. The pressure now shifts to Sundowns, who face Black Leopards in Polokwane tomorrow evening.
For Cosmos, this was another bitter blow in the battle against relegation. At least a point seemed secured following Siya-bonga Nhlapho’s first half cracker. And Jomo Sono can rue more bad luck with spot kicks. Pirates were awarded one in PE for Bester’s dive. And yesterday, as Katlego Loke went down under Thabo Matlaba’s challenge, Nkosi dubiously ruled that the initial contact had happened outside the area. Luck, as Wigan and QPR may testify in England of late, just seems to go against sides at the bottom.
On top of late finishes, Pirates have now developed the habit of fast starts. Early goals had helped seen them past Free State Stars and AmaZulu, and another came against Cosmos yesterday. Coach Augusto Palacios chose to pair Bongani Ndulula in attack with the in-form Tokelo Rantie, in the absence of the suspended Benni McCarthy.
‘Drogba’ has mostly had the ambition of his nickname laughed at this season, with some lacklustre displays that have seen him spend plenty of time on the sidelines. Here, however, he looked bright early on in partnership with Rantie, and capitalised smartly on a howler from Cosmos’ Ghanaian defender Ofosu Appiah, drilling his shot past Phali.
At that stage it seemed Cosmos might just capitulate, and with Pirates moving the ball around well, Andile Jali was just wide with a decent chance from the edge of the box.
Ezenkosi, however, have put in some improved performances this year, and were back in the game in stunning fashion in the 25th minute. Right back Nhlapho pulled back a bright blue boot and slammed a 30 metre rocket that left Senzo Meyiwa with no chance.
Pirates looked a little slack at the back, too often guilty of ball watching, but going forward they still carried menace. Tlou Segolela skipped past his man on the left wing and sent in a cross that Rantie ought to have buried.
Rantie was in a lively mood, and his deft back heel set up Matlaba, the left back’s shot parried by Phali and just evading the onrushing Ndulula. Rantie then sent in a fine cross, which was headed off target by the returning Thulasizwe Mbuyane.
It was Cosmos, however, who almost went in front just after the break. Elhadji Samb’s brilliant free kick was equally superbly tipped over by Meyiwa.
Pirates were increasingly poor going forward, Segolela the main culprit, persistently giving the ball away. The Buccaneers were also shaky at the back, and Palacios put on Daine Klate for the disappointing Segolela, and his corner almost provided a Pirates goal, Mbuyane flicking his header inches wide. A neat move then saw Jali play in captain Lucky Lekgwathi, but he lifted his shot well over the bar.
Just as Pirates seemed set to be held, however, Bester made them happy Easter bunnies. – The Star