‘AB HAS TO EARN HIS WAY BACK’

But Buc­ca­neers’ new-found de­fen­sive sta­bil­ity is sure to be tested by Sun­downs

Cape Argus - - FRONT PAGE - MIH­LALI BALEKA @Mih­lal­ibaleka

OR­LANDO Pi­rates goal­keeper Wayne Sandi­lands be­lieves the new-found co­he­sive­ness among the play­ers has been what has helped the team to im­prove their de­fen­sive frail­ties.

The Sea Rob­bers have shown glimpses of be­ing steady in their last three matches. They’ve bagged seven points out of a pos­si­ble nine, while they’ve im­pres­sively scored eight goals and con­ceded three.

In the last two sea­sons, for­mer coach Mi­cho Sre­do­je­vic and as­sis­tant Rhu­lani Mok­wena brought a breath of fresh air to pro­ceed­ings as Pi­rates went toe-to-toe with Mamelodi Sun­downs for the Premier­ship ti­tle.

How­ever, Sun­downs reigned supreme on both oc­ca­sions as the Buc­ca­neers were let down by their leaky de­fence, while be­ing pleas­ing on the eye go­ing for­ward.

And in­stead of bol­ster­ing the squad with qual­ity de­fend­ers dur­ing the pre-sea­son, Pi­rates sur­pris­ingly shipped in a truck full of mid­field­ers, who did lit­tle to rem­edy their de­fen­sive prob­lems dur­ing the early part of the term with Pi­rates con­ced­ing 20 goals in just 13 matches.

En­ter Josef Zinnbauer, Sre­do­je­vic’s of­fi­cial re­place­ment. The Buc­ca­neers have man­aged to get their ba­sics and tac­tics spot on, cut­ting down their de­fen­sive weak­nesses while still flour­ish­ing in front of goal.

“The team has been de­fend­ing bet­ter as a unit. I think de­fend­ing is not about the de­fend­ers and the keeper. As a team, you de­fend from the top, mid­dle and back, ob­vi­ously,” Sandi­lands said.

“I think as a team we are de­fend­ing as a col­lec­tive and that has been work­ing for us so far. So it’s a big pos­i­tive. I don’t think that (de­fend­ing from the top) was lack­ing in the past. But I think that the way we are do­ing it now has al­lowed us to be more co­he­sive to­gether. And I think it’s been a fo­cus point be­cause we don’t like con­ced­ing goals.”

Pi­rates’ resur­gence, as a team and de­fen­sively, will re­ceive its first real test when they wel­come cham­pi­ons Sun­downs to Or­lando Sta­dium this evening (7.30 kick-off).

The Brazil­ians, who are fresh from qual­i­fy­ing for the knock­out stage of the CAF Cham­pi­ons League, are sec­ond on the log and hop­ing to nar­row the nine-point gap to log lead­ers Kaizer Chiefs.

“Games against Sun­downs are al­ways dif­fi­cult. It will be an in­ter­est­ing game against them. It is a big oc­ca­sion in South African foot­ball, so it will re­quire both teams to be on top of their game,” Sandi­lands ex­plained.

Zinnbauer’s ap­point­ment was met with be­muse­ment by mem­bers of the foot­ball fra­ter­nity, par­tic­u­larly by the Ghost, early in De­cem­ber.

Many com­plained that the 49-year-old was an un­known fig­ure with a poor track record, while some felt Mok­wena was not given enough time to prove him­self.

Amid that talk, Mok­wena has since cut an un­pleas­ant fig­ure af­ter be­ing de­moted back to the as­sis­tant coach­ing role. The 34-year-old coach gave a cold and dis­tant re­ac­tion when the Bucs de­feated Black Leop­ards 3-1 in Zinnbauer’s first match late in De­cem­ber.

He has also been ab­sent from the dugout for the first two matches of the new year, adding fuel to sus­pi­cions that he’s not happy at the club any more.

“Coach Rhu­lani is still part of the team. But I think life goes on. Ev­ery­one is just pulling in the same di­rec­tion be­cause ev­ery­one knows the club is big­ger than each in­di­vid­ual,” Sandi­lands said.

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