A second-half strike from Vincent Pule was enough to hand Orlando Pirates a 1-0 win over Maritzburg United on Wednesday evening as the Soweto giants took a big step towards the Absa Premiership title.
Pirates came into the game looking to extend their lead at the top of the table to three points after title rivals Mamelodi Sundowns drew level on points with their own win over Chippa on Tuesday.
Maritzburg, on the other hand, were desperate for points, but for a whole different reason, as they looked to claw their way to safety.
The visitors got off to a good start when Thembinkosi Lorch hit a thunderous volley with just two minutes gone, but it headed straight at Richard Ofori in the Maritzburg goal.
It was proving to be an open game with both teams having a go, but the Team of Choice went close first when debutant Simphiwe Hlongwane found space in the box, his deflected shot going wide.
Milutin Sredojevic’s men were almost gifted the lead in the 13th minute when Brian Onyan underhit his back pass to Ofori. Vincent Pule pounced on the loose ball before squaring it to Lorch, who looked as if he would tap in to an empty net, but was denied by a brilliant goal-saving block from Nazeer Allie.
Both sides were trading blows as first Hlongwane brought a good save from Wayne Sandilands before Pule went close for the visitors from a tight angle.
Neither side could find a way to goal before half-time, though, scoreless at the break.
Pirates looked to impose themselves on the opposition in the second stanza, but were often guilty of overplaying in the final third.
The pressure finally took its toll on Eric Tinkler’s men as the Soweto giants took the lead in the 66th minute. Some intricate linkup play by Luvuyo Memela, Lorch and Justin Shonga saw Pirates find space down the flanks before the ball was whipped across the face of goal, leaving Pule with a tap-in.
Maritzburg were not going to lie down and almost hit back instantly as Judas Moseamedi forced Sandilands.
The Team of Choice continued to look for a way back into the game, but it was not forthcoming as Pirates held on for a vital three points in their title pursuit, while Maritzburg’s survivals hopes took another massive blow.
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