Rangers go down fighting

By Kamlesh Gosai

If Orlando Pirates are to mount a serious challenge for the league championship, they will have to do better than their performance in overcoming an under-strength Manning Rangers 1-0 at the Absa Stadium on Sunday.

For almost 40 minutes of the first half the Buccaneers' faithful sat quietly in the stands as Rangers matched and even outshone their opponents in terms of ball possession and scoring opportunities. Only the odd breakaway run by the speedy Joseph Ngake on the left wing, coupled with darting runs around the box by Sibusiso Zuma, brought the stadium to life. The home side were a skeleton of their usual selves.

Out on suspension are striker Gilbert Mushangazhike and midfielder Nkhiphitheni Matombo; defender Liswa Nduti has gone AWOL; and striker Keryn Jordan is injured. Despite the circumstances Rangers took the game to Pirates by closing them down quickly, keeping the ball in Pirates' half, and forcing errors.

Within the opening 22 minutes Rangers won three corners by forcing errors from striker Denis Lota, Ngake and Bafana Bafana defender Papi Khomane, but frittered away the opportunities. Pirates earned their first corner in the 23rd minute, but defender Tomas Inguana shot wide from outside the box. With the midfielders and strikers starved of the ball around the box, another defender, Gerald Raphahlela, tried an ambitious long-distance shot which sailed over the bar. But it was at the other end where Raphahlela's natural skills came to the fore. Rangers built up good pressure around the Pirates' box by keeping possession.

For Pirates, Zuma was full of aggression and came close with a header off a free-kick by midfielder Brandon Silent in the 34th minute. Pirates continued attacking in spurts. Two minutes before the interval, Rangers' goalkeeper Grant Johnson passed the ball out to defender Bradley Muir and he lost possession to Mngomeni, but the Pirates' midfielder shot wide.

The next minute completely altered the complexion of the match. Rangers' usually sturdy sweeper Helder Muianga was caught in possession by Mngomeni and Zuma and lost the ball. As he fell to the ground he literally pulled Mngomeni down from behind with his hands.

Referee Jeff Motsamai had no hesitation in showing the defender the red card for a professional foul. With the clock ticking two minutes into injury time, Ngake stretched the Rangers' backline with a run down the left. He beat a desperate lunge by Ndzuzo , cut inside and played the ball to Zuma. He played on to the unmarked Lota, who struck his shot cleanly into the back of the net for the eventual winner.

The second half saw defender Robert Milne replace Muir for Rangers and Kamaal Sait slot into Lewis's midfield position. Sait, together with Mngomeni, kept the Pirates' engine room running smoothly.

The final 20 minutes degenerated into a scrappy performance from two teams still in the running for league honours.