COMMENT: Orlando Pirates prove they’re not invincible under Zinnbauer

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Bucs’ chances of finishing the season with silverware got thinner after being dumped out of the Nedbank Cup by Bidvest Wits on Sunday

As the season wore on, it was clear that the Nedbank Cup was Orlando Pirates’ best chance of claiming a trophy, but having been eliminated by Bidvest Wits, and with Kaizer Chiefs nine-points clear in the Premier Soccer League race, the Buccaneers are now facing the prospect of ending the season empty-handed.

After an impressive league run of six victories and a draw, Pirates had appeared invincible under coach Josef Zinnbauer before this weekend.

However, a Wits side, smarting from an embarrassing Caf Confederation Cup exit, ended their bid for cup glory with a penalty shootout victory at Orlando Stadium.

That they faltered where it mattered most exposed Pirates’ lack of character, and that could also come to haunt the Soweto giants in the top flight, where they are pushing for Caf Champions League qualification.

After coming from behind to take the lead, Pirates surrendered territory and dropped deep into extra time. It was inevitable that they would concede and let Wits take the game to penalties.

Is Bucs’ crumble a sign of things to come?

In their final 10 league games, that attitude will be put to test, and following the Wits defeat, Pirates’ next opponents now know that they will be facing a team that can be conquered. Pirates’ aura has been quashed.

Zinnabauer’s reaction after the match sums up the state of affairs.

“I am not happy. We are not in the Cup now…When you come back and you concede two goals and then you go in front, normally you have to win…but this is the thing which I have said for the past six weeks, we need time for work…I am not happy today,” Zinnbauer told SuperSport TV after the Wits match.”

The manager, it seems, was already aware that Bucs’ were flattered by their recent run, and he’s keen to downplay their immense progress since a troubled start to the season.

While some Pirates fans, and neutrals alike, have celebrated Zinnbauer’s arrival and believe he’s turned the team around, the German feels he still needs time to perfect his squad.

Should the manager also take some of the blame?

Zinnbauer, for example, can be questioned for leaving out Ben Motshwari against Wits in what was interpreted as lack of judgement on the coach’s side.

He opted for Siphesihle Ndlovu and Fortune Makaringe in the heart of the park, but both struggled defensively as the Clever Boys pushed forward, while the whole of Pirates midfield appeared disorganised without Motshwari.

With the 28-year-old absent, Thabang Monare and Phathutshedzo Nange were allowed to dominate the midfield battle, and Pirates’ defence duly found themselves exposed…as had been the case on several occasions in January.

That lack of judgement, narrowed as a finer detail, proved costly on the day, and Zinnbauer must ensure that it was a one-off and not a sign of complacency on his behalf.

Apart from that, top striker Gabadinho Mhango was missing due to suspension, and while they got the goals on the day, will the supporting cast be able to step in should the Malawian miss more action between now and the season’s end?

Justin Shonga’s struggles don’t show any sign of ending, while the likes of Kabelo Dlamini and Nkanyiso Zungu haven’t yet demonstrated they can shoulder the burden.

Will Zinnbauer regret not adding another reliable scorer to the ranks in January?

Failure in the cup last weekend places greater pressure on Pirates ahead of their trip to Black Leopards on Sunday, as the league remains their only avenue to silverware.

Similarly, Bucs will be desperate to return to winning ways ahead of their Soweto Derby showdown with fierce rivals Kaizer Chiefs.

While Zinnbauer and co. will require their league rivals to falter between now and the season’s end, they must also do their bit, and that means picking themselves up after their cup exit and working on the failings that were evident in that match.