Wits turn on heat to finally get first win of 2017-18 against Pirates

23 September 2017 - 20:20 By Marc Strydom
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Gavin Hunt.
Gavin Hunt.
Image: Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images

After a steaming hot day‚ a Shakespearean-tempered wind blew across Bidvest Stadium as Bidvest Wits aimed to bounce back from an atrocious start to 2017-18 as Absa Premiership champions and Orlando Pirates to preserve a perfect start.

In a keyed-up atmosphere of the packed‚ small ground‚ the conditions spiked a dramatic atmosphere as a backdrop to a heart-stopping game played at speed and maximum intensity — perhaps just a millimetre more by 1-0 victors Wits.

Gerald Phiri edged Wits ahead in the fifth‚ followed by 85 minutes of the type of football that has fans clenching bottoms on the edge of their seats.

Wits’ problem has clearly been linked to inconsistency in their lineups. Despite this coach Gavin Hunt‚ clearly unhappy with a poor 3-0 away defeat against AmaZulu‚ still bravely made six changes.

Captain Thulani Hlatshwayo was out with a knee injury. Slavko Damjanovic‚ Bongani Khumalo‚ Thabang Monare‚ Gerald Phiri‚ Reeve Frosler and James Keene (playing in an aggressive two-man strike partnership with Amr Gamal) came in.

Pirates coach Milutin Sredojevic made two changes from his team that beat Cape Town City 1-0 on Tuesday.

Thamsanqa Gabuza returned for Bernard Morrison from the mystery issue that kept the centre-forward out against City. Teenager Lyle Foster was handed a first start ahead of Mpho Makola.

Wits had started with seven games without a win. Saturday’s performance was the perhaps not quite at the form‚ but certainly the intensity‚ that won the Clever Boys the league.

Hunt was clearly fed up with his team’s lacklustre performances.

Looking for solidity the coach returned to a 3-5-2 formation that never quite worked in a 3-1 defeat against Golden Arrows three matches back.

Whatever the formation‚ Hunt had Wits set up to push hard and direct at Pirates from the whistle. And they got the start they wanted.

Phumlani Ntshangase’s free-kick could not be won by Bucs centreback Ntsikelelo Nyauza. The ball fell to Phiri – the Malawian signed in 2015‚ and loaned to Platinum Stars last season – who slotted first-time and low past Wayne Sandilands.

Three minutes later Pirates winger Thabo Qalinge showed skill to turn and hit the crossbar.

Wits were intent on moving the ball so fast Pirates couldn’t see it.

In response‚ Bucs‚ normally ball-players‚ showed good coaching structure adapting to an effective counter-attacking game.

Something has been in the water supplied to PSL matches at the start of this season‚ with tempers flaring and referees committing howlers. This game had the potential to ignite‚ such as when Thamsanqa Gabuza hacked down Ntshangase and Wits were incensed at ref Thando Ndzandzeka only dishing out yellow.

Thabo Matlaba was through on the right before the break‚ forcing a fine save by Moeneeb Josephs.

The pace continued into the second half‚ Gamal glancing wide for Wits and Qalinge dallying in space in the box for Pirates.

Wits‚ nervy at having a lead in who knows how long‚ could not put the ball down‚ inviting Pirates to play. A swinging low cross by substitute Makola required a superb intercept by Josephs.

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