False start for Pirates against Highlands at Orlando
Highlands Park returned to the Absa Premiership stealing a valuable point from Orlando Pirates, who showed flashes of their immense potential for the 2018-19 season but had to settle for a 1-1 draw at Orlando Stadium on Saturday night.
This hype around teams in a preseason can be problematic. Sometimes even more so for Pirates, the ultimate big three team capable of underwhelming when everything seems in their favour.
They were not helped by Gladwin Shitolo’s 15th-minute back-passed own goal, the culprit Wayne Sandilands with a goalkeeping howler.
Substitute Justin Shonga equalised from the penalty spot in the 61st.
This was just a start for Pirates and their impressive army of boffins on the bench, and equally intimidating arsenal on the field.
They could not quite click on the first night, against plucky, if somewhat disjointed opponents. Bucs will hope to soon in a season that is threatening to get off at a hare’s pace.
Pirates coach Milutin Sredojevic had new signings Vincent Pule and Paseka Mako on the wings. Promoted 16-year-old midfielder Augustine Mahlonoko was on the bench, making an 88th minute debut, on for Pule.
Highlands counterpart Owen Da Gama had his best player from their runaway First Division championship, central midfielder Mothobi Mvala, suspended from a red card at the end of last season.
Sandilands’s shocker gifted Highlands the lead. Shitolo, under pressure from two attackers, innocuously passed back to the keeper at his near post. Sandilands, with the ball coming to his right, tried to pass with his left, the ball sneaking in under him.
Sandilands, who had played one league game since he fumbled Hlompho Kekana’s shot from halfway against Mamelodi Sundowns in November 2017, scarcely needed another blunder, and the crowd on his back afterwards.
Pirates, of course, rallied. It was not so easy, always, against a Highlands whose formation was a little all over the place.
From Innocent Maela’s angled lob from deep Zambian ox Augustine Mulenga shrugged off a challenge and forced a save off Tapuwa Kapini’s legs.
Pule’s free-kick thudded off the bottom of the crossbar.
Highlands had withdrawn further into a defensive shell. Against a side with Pirates’ quality, that’s asking for trouble.
Park got it when left-back Lesenya Ramoraka dragged a leg in the challenge to catch Mulenga on the right of Highlands’ box.
Shonga, on in the 56th, stepped up to strike into the roof of the net, to the left of Kapini.
Kapini somewhat wildly palmed Shitolo’s looping header off the line, then Mulenga’s low strike tested the keeper.
Mulenga smacked one at Kapini with five minutes left. Bucs had all the industriousness, but not quite the composure, to earn a winner.