24.04.2019 22:48 h

Scrambled goal takes Orlando Pirates closer to title

Leaders Orlando Pirates edged closer to a first South African Premiership title since 2012 when they won 1-0 at bottom club Maritzburg United on Wednesday.

A scrambled Vincent Pule goal on 67 minutes separated the teams in a tense, tight showdown watched by a sell-out 12,000 crowd in eastern city Pietermaritzburg.

As Kenya international and Maritzburg captain Brian Onyango tried to control the ball inside the six-yard box, Pule stuck out a foot and pushed it into the net.

The hard-fought victory lifted Pirates to 53 points with two fixtures remaining, away to Cape Town City and at home to Polokwane City, both top-half outfits.

Defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns, who trail by three points with a game in hand, host mid-table Golden Arrows and visit relegation candidates Black Leopards and Free State Stars.

Should the clubs finish level on points after the final round on May 11, goal difference will decide who finishes first and Pirates (+17) enjoy an advantage over Sundowns (+12).

Bidvest Wits are six points behind the leaders with a game in hand, but their hopes of a second title in three seasons hinge on Pirates and Sundowns dropping points.

Success was particularly sweet for Soweto-based Pirates as it was their first victory at the Harry Gwala Stadium since 2013, when they also won 1-0.

"It is not easy to come here and win," said Serbia-born Pirates coach Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic.

"This match resembled a cup final and it could have swung either way. After taking the lead, we did squander several chances to kill off our opponents."

Defeat left Maritzburg staring at relegation one season after finishing fourth and reaching the South African FA Cup final.

Coach Eric Tinkler praised the effort of his side but lamented poor decision-making in the final third of the pitch, which is a widespread weakness among Premiership sides.

"We deserved more from this match and others that we lost recently," he said. "Suddenly, we have lost the ability to create and score goals.

"There are three matches left for us -- two of them away to fellow strugglers -- and we will probably have to win them all to survive."

Maritzburg have 20 points, four less than Chippa United and five behind Baroka FC, with the bottom club automatically relegated and the second-last side going into play-offs.

Baroka twice came from behind to draw 2-2 away to Free State Stars in central town Bethlehem to keep alive hopes of dodging the drop.

Chippa fell 3-2 at Sundowns Tuesday and face a must-win home fixture against Cape Town City this weekend if they are to have a realistic chance of moving up the table.