JOHANNESBURG – Orlando Pirates held off a spirited fight-back from Maritzburg United to keep their title hopes alive with a 2-1 league win at the Orlando Stadium on Saturday night.
The visiting side only really came to life after finding themselves 2-0 down in the second half after goals from Thabiso Kutumela and Happy Jele. But although former Kaizer Chiefs defender Siyanda Zulu pulled one back, Pirates were able to hang on for the three points which leaves them five behind league leaders Mamelodi Sundowns.
Maritzburg contributed to an exciting and opening 20 minutes of the game, but as proceedings wore on it was evident that Pirates were in command and the more threatening team, playing some enterprising football on a wet surface.
They were rewarded by taking a 30th-minute lead when Kutumela neatly curled in a free kick at Richard Ofori's near post.
It could have been 2-0 eight minutes later, after some scintillating football from the hosts, Luvuyo Memela crossed for Kutumela, but his goal-bound shot brought out an agile stop from Ofori.
It didn't take long though for the Buccaneers to increase their lead –Jele's powerful header from a Memela corner two minutes after the interval putting the Soweto giants firmly in the driving seat.
The deficit was nearly reduced on the hour mark when Bandile Shandu smashed a 25-yard drive against the woodwork, before debutant William Twala sent a shot into the side-netting for the visitors.
The pressure continued from the Pietermaritzburg men as Mxolisi Kunene brought out a diving save from Bucs stopper Jackson Mabokgwane from a free kick.
The Team of Choice were indeed able to pull one back in the 70th minute when Xulu's thumping header from an inviting Deolin Mekoa free kick flashed past Mabokgwane and into the net - game on as Xulu grabbed the ball and raced back the half way line.
There were some anxious moments for Pirates late on, including a Mekoa shot which cannoned into the upright in added time, before they were able to make it to the finish line with their lead intact.
African News Agency