Orlando Pirates came from a goal down to claim a 2-1 victory over 10-man Stellenbosch in their MTN8 semifinal first-leg encounter at Athlone Stadium in Cape Town on Sunday afternoon.
The result offers the defending champions a slight but all-important advantage ahead of the decisive second leg at Orlando Stadium, where they will look to continue their bid for a twelfth triumph in the competition.
Playing in front of a full house, Pirates were made to absorb some early pressure from the hosts who managed to get their first shot at goal in the fifth minute through Iqraam Rayners, who fired wide after a turnover of possession inside the visitors’ half.
It took a further eight minutes for the Buccaneers to get a similar attempt of their own in a rare surge into opposition territory, where Patrick Maswanganyi linked up with Paseka Mako on the left flank before sending his shot narrowly wide.
It was however Stellies who enjoyed more chances early on, with Thabo Moloisane and Qobolwakhe Sibande both coming close to opening the scoring. The tide turned midway through the first period when the visitors camped inside the home side’s half in the 28th minute when captain Tapelo Xoki headed just wide after meeting an excellent cross from Maswanganyi.
This was just moments before the Buccaneers were handed a numerical advantage following a studs-up challenge by Moloisane on Maswanganyi, which resulted in the Stellies defender being given his marching orders.Looking to gain the most out of their upper hand in playing personnel, the Soweto Giants remained inside opposition territory where they had a flurry of opportunities as halftime approached.
Defender Nkosinathi Sibisi and striker Zakhele Lepasa both had their attempts at goal kept out by Stellies keeper Sage Stephens, followed by wingers Deon Hotto and Monnapule Saleng, who also could not breach the shot-stopper’s defences.
Lepasa found the net in injury time after more dominant play from Pirates, but that goal did not stand as the offside flag was up. It was at the other end of the field where the scoreboard was affected, with defender Stellenbosch Junior Toure heading in from a corner to hand his side the lead against the run of play.
Looking to claw their way back early in the second half, Pirates fired a couple of shots from long range – both from the boot of Thabang Monare who failed to find the target.Ndabayithethwa Ndlondlo followed that up with an attempt of his own when he managed to draw a save from Stephens just after the hour mark when he attempted to sneak the ball into his near post after finding himself unmarked inside the box.
That happened just moments before the equaliser which was provided by Lepasa, who hit double figures in all competitions as he headed in from a Maswanganyi cross to make it 1-1.With things now level, Pirates sought to edge ahead and continue to peg the hosts back inside their half. There was however no way past the low block employed by the Maroons, who denied the visitors a way into the attacking third.
The hosts’ defensive wall held up until deep into injury time, and it took a bit of inventiveness from eventual Man of the Match, Maswanganyi who staved off a challenge from would-be markers before chipping toward Hotto, who flicked the ball into the back of the net to make it 2-1.
Only seconds remained on the clock thereafter, and the Buccaneers had both the numbers and the know-how as they controlled matters to ensure a crucial away victory ahead of their home leg.