Jonty Mark

By Jonty Mark

Football Editor


Mind the gap: Zinnbauer’s Pirates are still eating Sundowns’ dust

Josef Zinnbauer's time at the Buccaneers looks on increasingly shaky ground.


 

There was a brief period in Thursday’s Nedbank Cup quarterfinal when Orlando Pirates had Mamelodi Sundowns wobbling on the ropes. Tshegofatso Mabasa had just equalised for the Buccaneers, and Gabadinho Mhango clattered the crossbar. The Buccaneers, indeed, went into the break with the momentum.

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And then it was over. In the second half, Sundowns came out like the heavyweights they are, pummelling the Buccaneers to the canvas, and emphasising just how far ahead of the game the Tshwane giants are in this country.

The problem for Pirates is that if there is a side that should be able to close the gap, it is them. Kaizer Chiefs have been serving a transfer ban, giving them a bit of a free pass this season, added to the fact that they ran Sundowns so close in the title race last season.

But the Buccaneers reinforced heavily before this campaign started, benefitting as much as Sundowns from the sale of Bidvest Wits. They did finally win a trophy under Josef Zinnbauer, lifting the MTN8, but otherwise progress has been intermittent.

Pirates currently sit 11 points behind Sundowns in the DStv Premiership, a gap that already seems too big to reel in. They do look set to reach the Caf Confederation Cup quarterfinals, but this is really a side that should be competing regularly in the Caf Champions League.

Indeed, if you take the face that Pirates finished five points behind Sundowns in the 2017/18 season, and two points behind them in the 2018/19 campaign, there is a decent argument that the Buccaneers are slipping backwards in their bid to catch up.

Zinnbauer did have mitigating circumstances in his first campaign in charge, in that he took over in December with Pirates suffering on the back of a dismal run under Rulani Mokwena. This season, however, there are no such excuses, and one would expect better from a team bolstered by talents like Thulani Hlatshwayo and Deon Hotto, to name but two of their top class reinforcements.

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