Bucs title hopes still alive

Katlego Mashego was the hero for Bucs, scoring twice in 15 minutes to secure the three crucial points. This after Ruud Krol’s team had missed a succession of chances throughout the game – and then allowed Chiefs back into it with a bizarre own-goal.

Pirates started the match a frenetic pace – though the Amakhosi defenders’ uncertainty certainly played a massive role in that. In fact, Bucs could realistically have been 2-0 inside the first five minutes.

The warning signs were there early enough; Katlego Mashego’s second-minute cross being punched away by Itumeleng Khune. Just a minute later and Pirates should have taken the lead – Rudi Isaacs’ pass to Tinashe Nengomasha being intercepted by Thulasizwe Mbuyane who, instead of taking his time, rushed a shot and an excellent opportunity was missed.

Shortly afterwards Mashego was afforded too much space on the edge of the area, but he fired over with his trusty left foot, before Teko Modise almost capitalised on some more shoddy defending by Isaacs, but his header lacked the power to trouble to Khune.

Slowly but surely Chiefs started finding their feet, and they soon fashioned their first half-chance when Jeffery Ntuka’s floated cross found Abia Nale, but he couldn’t time his header.

It proved a brief respite though, as Pirates soon had another golden opportunity through Mbuyane, but again the former Free State Stars man squandered a great chance after being set up by Modise.

On 29 minutes Mashego burned Khune’s fingertips with a rasping drive after a quick break down the left, from which Bucs were posing most of the problems.

Nale was proving Chiefs’ most influential player going forward and he perhaps should have done better when afforded space on the edge of the area, but his shot lacked power and direction as Moeneeb Josephs parried it for a corner.

Again, it was totally against the run of play as Pirates continued to hammer shots at Khune, who had to be at his best to deny Mashego on the stroke of half-time. The striker was played in expertly by Modise and, with time on his side, picked the far corner, but Khune’s outstretched boot came to the rescue.

Chiefs coach needed to shake things up and he did so by introducing Jose Torrealba for Arthur Zwane at the start of the second half.

Initially it made little difference, with Pirates continuing where they left off before the break, but still missing a number of chances.

Modise, who had been pulling the strings in midfield, came closest to opening the scoring five minutes into the half when his free-kick from the left hit the base of the upright. Mhlongo was in the right place for the follow-up, but his effort lacked power and was gathered by the keeper.

Lucas Thwala then tested Khune from distance before Chiefs finally put together a sustained spell of pressure. Ntuka first tested Josephs with a low drive, before Torrealba twice tested the keeper – the second a fierce volley which flew across the face of goal.

But Pirates’ dominance eventually paid off on 70 minutes when Mashego scored the crucial opener. Modise’s initial corner-kick was cleared, but his cross back into the box found Mashego, who beat Khune to the ball and flicked into the open net.

Two minutes later and it was almost 2-0 – Modise’s fierce drive cannoning back of Khune’s chest and away to safety.

But then, totally against the run of play and with an insane amount of luck, Chiefs found an equaliser. Torrealba’s cross was powerfully met by Destin Makita, whose header thumped into teammate Thwala and over Josephs into the net.

But Pirates refused to give up and, seven minutes later, retook the lead as Mashego completed his brace. Siphelele Mthembu outsprinted Isaacs, but his effort was well saved by Khune. However, the ball fell to Mashego on the edge of the area, who side-footed it into the bottom corner.

Modise again tested Khune with a near-post save, with Dikgang Mabalane’s follow-up blocked, but Mashago’s brace proved enough to keep the title race well and truly alive.