By Mazola Malefe | IOL |
The 2016-17 Premiership season hasn’t been in short supply of genuine title contenders.
But after yet another dominant performance – dismantling an Orlando Pirates outfit that has been in disarray for some time – Wits proved why they are perhaps the strongest of all the challengers for the championship on Wednesday night with a 2-1 victory at Orlando Stadium.
In case anyone needed a reminder of their potent attack and their equally effective defence, the Clever Boys offered a master class to their miserable counterparts and went into the halftime break with a healthy 2-0 lead, thanks to two exquisitely-taken goals by striker Gabadinho Mhango.
It was tense in Soweto given the home side’s recent string of poor results, which include the 6-0 humiliation away to league title holders Mamelodi Sundowns on Saturday afternoon – a result which caused mayhem and ugly violent scenes when irate Pirates fans invaded the pitch baying for interim coach Augusto Palacios’ blood.
The security had to be on high alert for this encounter, but Wits were not about to be swallowed up by the logistics and their opponents’ drama. Much like the heavy police presence at the venue on the night, Gavin Hunt, the Clever Boys coach, deployed an extremely offensive line-up clearly aiming to exploit the Pirates frailties.
The Buccaneers were looking to end an unbelievable seven-game winless run in all competitions coming into this match, and having conceded six goals in their previous game was an obvious indicator to Wits that they were there for the taking.
Palacios again rang the changes as expected, and an apparent meeting between the players, technical team and chairman Irvin Khoza earlier this week appeared to have injected some life into the squad.
Pirates had their chances, but the difference between the two sides is that Wits took theirs when they came to go top of the table.
Mhango was able to slide past the flat-footed duo of Thabo Matlaba and Happy Jele to create space for himself and coolly pick a spot on the far post to break the deadlock. And the Malawian struck again on the stroke of halftime, connecting with a corner kick from Phakamani Mahlambi to head home a second.
Mhango is proving to be a significant signing for Hunt and rewarded the coach with another double after he came off the bench to score twice in the 5-0 thrashing of Ajax Cape Town last week. But he is not the only one crucial in Wits’ title push this season, and their depth is evidence enough.
While Pirates continued to chop and change in attempt to end this horrid run, the Clever Boys could afford to pull off one of their best players in winger Mahlambi on the hour mark and replace him with Elias Pelembe, a previous league winner and former Footballer of the Year, to try and finish the task.
The Buccaneers were a lot more compact at the back in the second half and they were eventually able to pull one back through Jele, who was quick to react on the follow-through to Dove Wome’s header, which was punched back into play by goalkeeper Darren Keet.
The night got more interesting for Jele in the 77th minute when he had to swap his jersey with keeper Jackson Mabokgwane, who was shown a straight red card for handling the ball outside his penalty area in a desperate attempt to deny Mhango from getting his hat trick.
Pirates had a fight about them on the night, but it was such a pity that they faced a team so much better than them – and many others – this season.