Mailula inspires Sundowns to victory over Pirates
It’s a juggernaut that cannot be stopped.
That’s one of the ways of describing Mamelodi Sundowns’ record-extending DStv Premiership winning streak that they stretched to 15 matches with a close 1-0 victory over Orlando Pirates at a sold-out Orlando Stadium on Saturday.
The win means Sundowns, who were so cocky that they started this match without a natural left-back, have completed a double over two Soweto giants as they did the same to Kaizer Chiefs last month.
Sundowns top the log with 55 points after 21 matches and are 27 points clear of fourth-placed Pirates who now look unlikely to catch the Brazilians.
The defeat also means Pirates lost all six of their league matches against the Brazilians in three successive seasons — a record they were desperate to avoid at their home ground where their supporters came in numbers and with some hope after their side’s three wins coming into this encounter.
But unlike some of the easy wins that Sundowns have had in their previous 14 matches, Pirates — a team that was expected to prevent them from winning a sixth league title on the trot — gave their all as they tried to match their visitors pound for pound.
A mistake by Pirates midfield, which was packed with three defensive midfielders in Miguel Timm, Thabang Monare and Goodman Mosele, lost possession in front of their area to give Sundowns striker Cassius Mailula an opening to slot in his seventh league goal of the season in the 6th minute.
Sundowns were very smart in denying Pirates the ball and space to beat their goalkeeper Ronwen Williams, a player who was comfortable in starting most of the visitors’ attacks from the back.
In contrast, Pirates keeper Sipho Chaine, who had no chance to save Mailula’s strike, looked very uneasy whenever his teammates played a back pass to him when they were under pressure.
Chaine did well to deny Mailula a brace eight minutes from the end when Sundowns had regained control of the match.
Pirates were unlucky not to earn a penalty or free kick when Monare was fouled inside the box in one of the few times that the home side entered the dangerous area in the opening half.
The incident infuriated some of the Pirates supporters who reacted by throwing a few missiles onto the pitch.
Missiles were also thrown a few times by frustrated Bucs fans in the second half.
Sundowns started the second stanza the same way they began the match, pinning Pirates into their own half as they looked to extend their lead.
Sundowns’ pressing led to Pirates failing to get away from their half as they lost possession cheaply at times.
A few set pieces here and there was the only way that Pirates tested Williams, with striker Monnapule Saleng coming close to finding the back of the net a couple of times.
But Pirates should have beaten Williams on the hour-mark when substitute Vincent Pule hit the upright and right-back Bandile Shandu shot straight to the Sundowns keeper from the same rebound.
This was at a time when Pirates dominated the match and looked on course to finding the equaliser.
Pirates' struggle to beat Sundowns in league matches has also coincided with the last time the Soweto giants played in the Champions League which was 2019-2020.
The last three seasons have seen Kaizer Chiefs, who were losing finalists in 2021, AmaZulu FC and Cape Town City finishing second in the league and taking the place which was normally occupied by Pirates’ in the Champions League.
Gabadhino Mhango scored the last goal that saw Pirates beat Sundowns in a league match, his solitary strike here on January 15, 2020 giving Pirates victory.
The loss means Pirates will have to win most of their remaining 11 league games to finish second and qualify for next season's Champions League. Chiefs, the Soweto rivals that Pirates must also avoid being beaten by twice this season when they meet later this month, is alongside SuperSport United, among the teams that have a chance to earn the Champions League spot with champions-elect Sundowns.
Orlando Pirates (0) 0
Mamelodi Sundowns (1) 1
Scorer: Sundowns — Cassius Mailula (6m)
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