Mandla Ncikazi will hope Pirates can prove they’re on par with Sundowns when they host Baroka
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Johannesburg – Talk is cheap but actions are priceless. That’s why Orlando Pirates’ co-coach Mandla Ncikazi has to bank on his team to back up his audacious comments – that they are on the same level as Mamelodi Sundowns – when they face Baroka on Thursday night.
Out in Liberia on Sunday, Ncikazi held court after Pirates took a gigantic step into qualifying for the group stage of the Confederation Cup following a 2-0 win over LPRC Oilers in the first leg of the play-offs. He was on cloud nine.
He made claims that “we're on the level of Sundowns, but we even have more support than them". The latter might be true but for Ncikazi to say they are on par with a club that has won six titles – 11 overall – in the last 10 seasons, is far-fetched.
Sundowns are in a league of their own. They are unbeaten this season, sitting pretty comfortably at the top of the league with a game in hand and eight points clear of second placed Kaizer Chiefs.
Where are the Buccaneers meanwhile? Pirates are seventh, and 12 points behind the Brazilians. But perhaps, on Thursday night, Ncikazi can put his money where his mouth is and guide the Buccaneers to second in the league. But they’ll have to beat Baroka first.
That win needs to be convincing too. Pirates have the personnel, especially with some of their key players returning to training and full-fitness. Ncikazi has bemoaned their inconsistency as a result of the host of injuries that they've endured.
Gabadinho Mhango played his first match of the term in Liberia as he’s been out of the team for various reasons. But the Bucs will also rely on Tshegofatso Mabasa to find the goals on a regular basis up front after his inconsistent outing.
Pirates though will also be thrilled that their defence has kept back-to-back clean sheets given their blunders. Away in Liberia they conceded a penalty but it was missed. But such an incident would likely not go unpunished here at home.
After all, Pirates are well known by the other 15 clubs who watch them play week in and out. And that’s why it would be easy to pick out the mistakes of goalkeeper Siyabonga Mpontshane who's been standing in for No. 1 Richard Ofori.
But in the bigger picture, there’ll be some significance to the game at Orlando. It will mark the return of Kgoloko Thobejane to the dugout after he left the club, returned as the reserve team coach before he was promoted in the last few days.
A traditional coach who believes in catching the opponent on counter-attacks, Thobejane will be looking for his first win of the season from the outset. He also loved visiting the Sea Robbers at Orlando in his first stint as the head coach.
The phrase “football will kill you! It will kill you. You will die a real death”, was expressed by him after the 3-1 loss to the Bucs away. And that’s why he'd be hoping that he won't grow more grey hair tonight in their quest to climb up the log.