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Pirates’ season from hell

 “It’s a nightmare” – Kjell Jonevret

Saturday’s 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Supersport United in the 2017 Nedbank Cup final at Moses Mabhida stadium just about sums up what has been a woeful 2016/7 season for Orlando Pirates.

It has been a season characterised by a generous dosage of heartaches for the millions of Bucs’ fans across South Africa and in other corners of the world. It was another performance that left many soccer followers battling for answers as to what really is the cancer consuming the once mighty Pirates?

Different technical approaches have been implementing from Mushin Ertugral to Augusto Palacios to Kjell Jonevret but it does not seem like any of it is producing desired results. More and more, it began to seem like one was watching a movie called The Mighty Have Fallen!

Saturday’s Nedbank Cup final was predicted to light up with fireworks for several reasons. It was a match that had so much importance for Pirates and their coach. For starters, Supersport United was the very same team that had humiliated them with a 6-1 massacre in a league encounter and what better way to atone for that poor showing than to wrestle the cup from the Pretoria side.

The victory on Saturday would have been even sweeter considering that Baxter’s men were the defending Nedbank Cup champions having beaten the same Orlando Pirates 3-2 in a thriller last year. It would also have meant participation in next year’s CAF Confederation Cup tournament.

A victory at Moses Mabhida would, certainly have, at least, appeased the fans who rightly believe that their team has let them down. Pirates finished 11th on the log, the first timer the team has finish outside the top eight in the history of the Premier League.

That disasterous performance means Bucs will have to watch proceedings in the Telkom Knockout tournament from the sidelines.

Tracking the rot at Pirates

The Buccaneers did not have a good season in 2015/6 under Eric Tinkler. The fans complained that Tinkler was too inexperienced for an institution the size of Pirates. It was, therefore, no surprise when he made way for Mushin Ertugral, a shrewd tactician in his own right.

Things seemed to stabilize a bit until the fateful day when Supersport tore them to shreds in that 6-1 defeat. It was too much for Ertugral to stomach leading him to resign soon after the match.

Then came Palacios, who many believed to have an in-depth understanding of the Pirates culture and legacy. Perhaps the “caretaker coach” tag was his undoing as it was reported that he lost control of the dressing room.

So when Jonevret was unveiled as the new coach on February 20, he inherited a team that was low in confidence and was leaking goals as a sieve. Predictably, his main assignment was to arrest the defensive frailties that had come to characterise Pirates’ poor run.

The move saw Issa Sarr and Abbubaker Mobara as defensive linkmen to add depth to the backline. Jonevret adopted a 4-2-3-1 formation that saw marksman, Tendai Ndoro, falling out of favour with the coach opting for Thamsanqa Gabuza upfront.

Nedbank Cup loss, an eye-opener?

The 4-1 Nedbank Cup loss to Supersport might have exposed Jonevret’s tactical inadequacies. After enjoying a good first half in which the team was unlucky to concede against the run of play, Bucs dramatically collapsed in the second half.

As the match wore on, it became very clear that the coach had not done his homework well. His plan to attack Supersport backfired when his players started showing signs of lack of fitness as a result of the ending of the season. This would be become telling against a side playing in the CAF Confed Cup and predictably resulting in three more goals being pumped past a hapless Mphontsane between the sticks for Pirates.

The battle of wits was clearly won by a shrewd Baxter, who knew how to tire the opponents and then finish them off like sheep at an abattoir. It could have been worse for Pirates considering Supersport even had the luxury of fluffing a penalty.

Again Jonevret’s decision to bench Dove Wome instead of Gabuza might have worked to his disadvantage. While Wome had missed two chances to put the Buccaneers ahead, it is also true that he was more involved in the match than Gabuza. Maybe if he pulled off Gabuza and played Ndoro and Wome he could have stretched Matstsantsa’s defence.

The fact that the coach looked so dejected after the Nedbank Cup “nightmare” might not be a good sign. When the captain of the ship seems to doubt himself in the face of troubled waters, it usually does not end well. Only time will tell.

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