Sundowns, Pirates primed for top-of-the-table clash

Gift Motupa of Orlando Pirates is challenged by Hlompho Kekana of Mamelodi Sundowns during Absa Premiership match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates at Loftus Stadium. BackpagePix

Two of this season's Absa Premiership title contenders go head to head on Saturday when defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns host in-form Orlando Pirates at the Lucas Moripe Stadium.

Sundowns have stuttered along in the defence of their title, but looked much more assured and clinical in the midweek 3-1 home success over Free State Stars. 

There was finally a goal for New Zealand forward Jeremy Brockie after a wait of 378 days and 35 matches, while Uruguayan forward Gaston Sirino showed why he is an early contender for Player of the Season this year. 

It was finally a breaking of the shackles for a Sundowns side who had managed to score more than one goal in a match only once in their previous 12 games, a run during which they had been dumped out of the CAF Champions League, MTN8 and Telkom Knockout. 

Brockie might have had more in the game but was denied by some excellent goalkeeping from Stars' Badra Ali Sangare.

Coach Pitso Mosimane will hope that the floodgates will now open for the New Zealander, starting against a Pirates side against whom Brockie has a good record with former side SuperSport United.

"I am happy for him that he scored the goal," Mosimane told reporters. "Sometimes I asked myself: 'Is this the same guy who scored double figures every year?' because we feel sorry for our players when they are trying hard and not getting it right." 

Mosimane suggested that Brockie would start again against Pirates, who he says are favourites for the colossal clash.

"Let's be honest‚ they are a free-flowing team‚ they are the favourites. They look good‚ they are noisy and they are on a high," Mosimane said.

"They are winning every week. We just have to give them respect and do what we have to do.

"We would love to win because it is a big game‚ but they are favourites. If you look at them‚ it is still the same team of last year while we are rebuilding."

Pirates lead the Absa Premiership table with 22 points from 12 games, two ahead of second-placed Bidvest Wits, though they have played two games more. Sundowns are five points behind The Buccaneers but have three games in hand. 

Wits host fifth-placed Bloemfontein Celtic on Saturday, a fixture between the two most miserly defences in the top-flight.

Wits have only conceded four goals in their 10 games and Celtic five in nine, with Steve Komphela having rejuvenated the ailing Phunya Sele Sele, while the last three meetings between these sides have all ended 1-0, two of those wins for Wits. 

Kaizer Chiefs are seeking a third win in a week as they entertain Chippa United in Durban, a game that will be played behind closed doors as they complete their punishment for fan misbehaviour last season. 

The only game they played with no fans resulted in a 1-0 loss to Polokwane City last month and they will be desperate to avoid a repeat against a Chippa side they would expect to beat.

Chiefs are five points behind leaders Pirates and have played the same number of games as their Soweto rivals, who they meet in the Telkom Knockout semifinals, also in Durban, the following week.

Just how much that fixture, with silverware so close, plays on the minds of the players going into the game against Chippa remains to the seen.

Free State Stars welcome SuperSport United to Bethlehem on Saturday night, while there are also two games on Sunday.

Cape Town City host Black Leopards and bottom side AmaZulu will be desperate for points when they welcome high-flying Polokwane City.