Milutin Sredojevic admits Highlands Park gave Orlando Pirates a fright
Highlands Park are an unrecognisable team from the first match of the season‚ Orlando Pirates coach Milutin Sredojevic said‚ giving his opponents high praise after a thrilling 2-2 Absa Premiership draw between the two in Tembisa on Saturday night.
Pirates would have liked a win to remain breathing down the necks of Absa Premiership leaders Bidvest Wits‚ who beat Free State Stars 2-1 away.
Instead they had to claw a draw thanks to substitute Kudakwashe Mahachi's 81st-minute equaliser that rounded off a breathtaking second half.
Second-placed Pirates are now five points behind leaders Wits on their return from the Christmas break.
Sredojevic gave credit to opposite Highlands number Owen Da Gama‚ saying that Park are a hugely improved combination from the one who scrambled a 1-1 draw against Bucs in the corresponding season-opening fixture at Orlando Stadium in August.
"The first game was different.
"We scored an own goal‚ and in 90-plus minutes they did not have a shot on goal‚ while we had a record 19 shots at goal‚ which is the most for the whole half-season we have played‚" Sredojevic said.
"Highlands are now showing how no side in our league has beaten them convincingly. Even when they lose‚ they lose honourably‚ with a never-say-die approach that pays them back."
Highlands would have felt unfortunate‚ after a match that could have gone either way‚ and where they could justifiably have won‚ to slip from eighth to ninth place.
The promoted team's progression‚ though‚ has been there to see this season.
From that opening game where the gameplan was notably all over the place for campaigners clearly inexperienced at the next level‚ to Saturday night's tight‚ well-drilled‚ highly fit outfit who gave Bucs hell at their Makhulong Stadium home ground‚ Highlands now look a competitive PSL outfit.
Sredojevic‚ though‚ also noted from Saturday night that Pirates' Achilles heel of too many goals conceded for a team who consider themselves championship material of 14 went to 16 due to some imperfect defending.
"Absolutely‚ it was a difficult game. It was a drastic improvement from Highlands Park from that first game‚" Sredojevic said.
"The 14 games that they have played in-between our first match and the second round have shown that they are a very hard nut to crack.
"They are a team who you really need to throw everything that you have at‚ and then ensure that your quality prevails.
"I want to critically look at certain things defensively. We want to look for a much-improved performance against Chippa in three days to come."
Pirates host Chippa United at Orlando Stadium on Tuesday night.