Orlando Pirates (1) 1
Bloemfontein Celtic (0) 2
(Phalane 77, Rikhotso 90+)
Orlando Pirates need some direction, and perhaps the appointment of a permanent coach in the New Year will offer them just that.
There was a clear path during Muhsin Ertugral’s short stint earlier on in the season before he quit immediately following the historic 6-1 humiliation away to SuperSport United last month in Nelspruit, the German-Turk feeling he’d probably lost the dressing room.
While his playing patterns were structured, they were somewhat energy-sapping and also quite complex for these Pirates players. The defeat to SuperSport aside, the marriage could have well ended in tears.
Augusto Palacios stepped in to steady the ship as the Buccaneers were sliding away in the Premiership title race, a trophy they are desperate to win in celebrating their 80th birthday.
But, for a while now, Pirates have had no icing on their cake. This defeat to an equally struggling Bloemfontein Celtic side added to their woes – stretching the winless run to five matches.
The three previous results also show that Pirates need the upcoming recess – enforced by the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon next month – the same way the teams below them on the log table do.
Actually, Pirates need a coach. With all his experience working for the club (21 years’ knowledge), Palacios isn’t the right fit – he’s taken over a different team compared to the one that he led in the last 12 matches of their championship-winning campaign in 2012.
The two coaches before him then, Ruud Krol and Julio Leal, had done all the hard work. Under Dutchman Krol, the Buccaneers were treble winners. When Leal headed back to Brazil mid-season, the club were MTN8 and Telkom Knockout cup holders.
Ertugral not only left a bit of a mess, but also a disgruntled dressing room apparently. And Palacios lifted the morale in the few weeks subsequent to that, but has clearly run his race.
Pirates came into this home fixture, their final one in front of their fans this year, licking their wounds after last week’s 2-1 defeat away to Maritzburg United. They had only managed draws in the two games prior to that trip to the Harry Gwala Stadium, and it was no surprise that Palacios tinkered with the line-up slightly, even deploying defender Thabo Matlaba in midfield alongside Abbubaker Mobara, while Mpho Makola started on the bench.
Interestingly, captain Oupa Manyisa found himself playing quite high up with the league’s leading scorer Tendai Ndoro. Manyisa profited from a blunder by Celtic goalkeeper Patrick Tignyemb very early in the second half and you would’ve been excused for thinking Pirates were going to cruise, given just how poor Celtic were in their 3-0 loss to Ajax Cape Town in their last home game of 2016 on Saturday evening.
The goal Pirates conceded to settle for a share of the spoils all but confirmed their morale, organisation and all-round desperation for points needs a bit of a lift when Tignyemb’s opposite number – Jackson Mabokgwane – let in an incredibly soft goal as he watched Lantshene Phalane’s hopeless long ball stroll into the net, thinking it was heading for a goal kick.
And then Celtic built on from that with a sucker-punch from defender Tshepo Rikhotso, who slid in to connect with a cross in stoppage time to help Celtic walk away winners and improve their own roller-coaster ride.
Palacios has played his part.