Orlando Pirates shrugged off their Telkom Knockout final defeat this past weekend as they strengthened their grip on top spot in the Absa Premiership with a 3-1 win over Free State Stars at Bethlehem on Tuesday.
The Buccaneers had to work hard for their victory, but goals from Thembinkosi Lorch, Justin Shonga and Linda Mntambo ensured they came away from Goble Park with three precious points in their final league game of 2018.
Pirates got out of the blocks quickly and opened the scoring as early as the 14th minute. A well-worked set piece saw Justin Shonga find an unmarked Thembinkosi Lorch, who cracked home a first-time shot to put the visitors ahead.
The Soweto side doubled their advantage on 28 minutes. Marcelo da Silva’s fine pass put Augustine Mulenga into space – he in turn found compatriot Shonga, who beat his defender with a clever touch before firing the ball beyond Badra Ali Sangare for 2-0.
Stars threatened only sporadically through the first half, but they were close to pulling a goal back in the 38th minute, with Harris Tchilimbou heading narrowly wide after getting on the end of a fine cross from the right flank.
Halftime saw the Buccaneers 2-0 up, but their control of the game was eroded just eight minutes after the restart – Happy Jele was unable to sort out his feet in trying to deal with a low cross from Sinethemba Jantjie and put the ball into his own net to allow Stars back in the game.
And Ea Lla Koto gained huge confidence from the goal, with Jantjie hitting the frame of the goal with a fine strike just before the hour mark, while goalkeeper Siyabonga Mpontshane was called upon to make an awkward save from Tchilimbou a few minutes later.
The Buccaneers shot-stopper impressively plucked a powerful, goal-bound effort from Jantjie out of the air in the 74th minute and Stars appeared to be building up for a give-it-all finale. Yet in the dying stages they were reduced to 10 men when substitute Sibusiso Masina went studs-up at Mpho Makola and was shown a red card within 60 seconds of his entry.
The expulsion took all the wind out of the hosts and they succumbed to a 3-1 defeat, with Linda Mntambo adding Pirates’ final goal in the second minute of injury time as he coolly chipped the ball over Sangare to finish off a counter attack.
Neither side will be in domestic action again this year, with Pirates resuming their Absa Premiership campaign away to Highlands Park and Stars doing the same at home to Bidvest Wits – both on January 5.
Free State Stars (0) 1 (Jele og 53’)
Orlando Pirates (2) 3 (Lorch 14’, Shonga 28’, Mntambo 90+2′)
Stars: Sangare, Mbhele, Tema, Mahamutsa, Phungwayo, Jantjie, Masehe (Masina 88’), Makhaula, Dlamini (Jappie 67’), Tchilimbou(Moseamedi 80’), Bhengu
Pirates: Mpontshane, Mobara, Jele, da Silva, Maela, Mntambo, Makola, Lorch (Mbekile 87’), Pule (Nyatama 65’), Mulenga, Shonga (Mako 80’)