Orlando Pirates get out of the blocks with a bang sweeping aside Celtic
Orlando Pirates have paid in the past two seasons, both of which where they were pipped at the post as Absa Premiership runners-up by Mamelodi Sundowns, for slow starts.
They seemed intent on rectifying this aspect with a glimpse of the forceful, powerful brand of football they will aim for in the 2019-20 sweeping aside Bloemfontein Celtic 3-1 at Orlando Stadium in their league opener.
Bucs – showing some, but comparatively far less, of the early-season rustiness that saw them grind out of the blocks in the past two campaigns – opened the scoring through Augustine Mulenga in sixth minute.
Substitute centre-back Mzwandile Mahashe equalised in 39th as Bucs consolidated deep to allow a nervy Celtic back in the game.
Innocent Maela (56th) and substitute Gabadinho Mhango (78th) struck in an authoritative second 45 minutes by the Buccaneers.
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Pirates coach Milutin Sredojevic’s only mild surprise in his starting XI was promoted 19-year-old Thabiso Monyane, who can play as winger, at right-back.
Bucs had four new signings – Fortune Makaringe, Siphesihle Ndlovu, Gabadinho Mhango and Kabelo Dlamini – on the bench.
Celtic began 2018-19 with serious question marks over whether they can sustain last season’s somewhat remarkable eighth-placed finish given owner Max Tshabalala’s financial strain, and unsuccessful efforts to sell the club.
Coach Lehlohonolo Seema had Sipho Chaine (22) – who impressed in the MDC reserve league last season – in goal ahead of ex-Buccaneer Jackson Mabokgwane, after long-time keeper Patrick Tignyemb’s acrimonious off-season split to Chippa United.
Pirates started brightly, as Musa Nyatama exposed a Celtic central defence that looked uncoordinated early on with a free header from a corner directed hard at Chaine.
Within minutes they had the lead, again the Free Staters’ back four exposed, as Nyatama’s excellent low trajectory pass from metres inside his half picked out the run to beat offside of Mulenga on the edge of the area, who advanced alone and beat Chaine.
It is such early days in the season. Bucs, though, by such a premature indication, just seemed not to have shaken their tendency of not always knowing how to consolidate while still probing when they have a lead.
As they sat deep Celtic gained in confidence. Ndumiso Mabena’s free-kick from left midfield dipped to the feet of big defender Mahashe – on for injured Wandisile Letlabika in the seventh minute – who controlled, and the ball sat up nicely for the nod past Wayne Sandilands.
Pirates came out of the change rooms intent on playing back on the front foot.
From Mulenga’s corner 11 minutes in another player, Maela, was left free by Celtic, but the left-back still had work to do producing a clinical header past Chaine.
Bucs controlled the game far better in the second half, as the central pairing of Ben Motshwari and Nyatama – who have the look of being influential for Bucs this season – won and recycled the ball from within a higher-pressing structure.
Still, though, Celtic’s forceful left-back Ronald Pfumidzai’s angled shot had to be tipped past the post by a diving Sandilands.
Mhango – who became a liability at Bidvest Wits last season, but has all the ability, and will have his interest peaked again by a move to a big club – gave a taste of such class poaching Bucs’ third.
The Malawian blocked off Mahashe’s clumsy pass to win the ball, advance down the right and strike powerfully past Chaine at the keeper’s near post.
Celtic were better in attack than defence, and Pirates were not exactly watertight at the back, as Pfumidzai skewed another chance on the left.