Andile Jali of Mamelodi Sundowns during the 2018 Telkom Knockout Cup match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Bloemfontein Celtic at the Lucas Moripe Stadium, Atteridgeville on 20 October 2018 ©Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

For the first time in almost six years, a match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates ended in a scoreless stalemate but it was a brilliant game that was almost spoiled by the pitch invasion by a lone fan at the Loftus Stadium in Tshwane on Saturday.

Pirates remained at the top of the table with 23 points after 13 starts, Wits lie second with 20 points from 10 matches while the defending champions Sundowns have steadily climbed up the log table and occupy third with 18 points from 10 matches and remain the only unbeaten side in the current championship.

Both teams gave as much as they received in a tactical game where there was pretty little clear scoring opportunities and consequently both sets of goalkeepers had little to do as shots on goal were surprisingly few and far in between.

“They wanted to win and we also wanted to win,” commented Pirates coach Micho Srejedovic. “We got our tactics right. It was more like a game of chess. You could see the class between the two teams. They pulled this side and we did the same on the other side.”

If anything, PIrates appeared to have built their strategy around bottling up dangerous Gaston Sirino and never really allowed the livewire attacking midfielder enough space to create havoc.

Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane agreed with Micho’s sentiments. He said it was a very good game by two equally strong forces; two good teams and he gave his opponents credit, adding that they have improved tremendously during the last two years.

“We got our tactics spot on,” said Mosimane. “We could have won it in the first half. We did not let Ben Mtshwari to play, we closed him down quickly.  And both my central defenders Ricardo Nascimento and Musa Lebusa were excellent today.”

“We also controlled the midfield. Lebo Maboe was coming in the heart of the midfield. Even Lyle Lackay did well. Our strategy was right. We just did not create clear scoring chances. Micho has done extremely well for Pirates, I respect him.”

But it seems like the turning point came as early as the second minute when Andile Jali, dogged my off-field issues throughout the last two weeks and coming up against his former club for the first time since he came back from abroad, suffered from a pulled hamstring.

Jali carried the ball almost half the length of the pitch, evading the attention of several players and when everybody expected him to shoot, laid off the ball for Jeremy Brockie, who tried to bend the ball with the outside of the foot, unfortunately his attempt went wide in only the second minute.

The dye was cast and there was no let-up from there onwards. Both teams attacked each other relentlessly, trying to grab that crucial goal that could have given them the early advantage, but none of the goalkeepers were prepared to yield.

There were changes in the second half by both teams and still the tempo of the game did not slack, but in the end a draw seemed only a fair reflection of a game in which both teams were a good advert of South African football.

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