Pirates stay afloat in title race

Orlando Pirates kept their South African Premiership title hopes alive on Wednesday with a dramatic 2-1 victory at lowly Maritzburg United.

When former Democratic Republic of Congo defender Bageta Dikulu levelled for Maritzburg from an 88th-minute penalty, Pirates faced the prospect of slipping seven points behind leaders SuperSport United with four rounds left. But another defender, Lucas Thwala of Pirates, had the final say, powerfully heading a corner past the United goalkeeper in the final minute to bring the title race back to life.

Thulasizwe Mbuyane gave the visitors a 22nd-minute lead at a packed Woodburn Stadium in the KwaZulu-Natal city against a Maritzburg team guided by former Pirates coach Gordon Igesund.

SuperSport also scored a late goal, but the strike from midfielder Daine Klate only served to confirm the supremacy of the defending champions over mid-table Moroka Swallows in a 2-0 Pretoria triumph. Shock losers to Kampala City Council of Uganda in the African Champions League last weekend, United bounced back to dominate the unambitious 'Birds' and would not have been flattered by a wider victory margin.

Liberian striker Anthony Laffor broke the deadlock on 60 minutes and the late close-range shot from Klate strengthened his growing claims for a place in the national squad for the mid-year FIFA Confederations Cup. The results meant SuperSport maintained their five-point advantage and three wins from their remaining four fixtures will guarantee another million-dollar first prize in the richest African national football championship.

Former African Champions Cup holders Pirates face a daunting run-in with a fixture at SuperSport on 23 April followed by a Soweto derby against fierce rivals Kaizer Chiefs on 2 May in Johannesburg. Chiefs lie third, eight points behind SuperSport, after a 2-0 victory at all-but-doomed Bay United in Port Elizabeth thanks to second-half goals from midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala and striker Kaizer Motaung Junior.

Durban-based AmaZulu made it five wins in a row by defeating Golden Arrows 1-0 in a KwaZulu-Natal derby settled late in the first half when striker Brad Ritson struck. Success lifted AmaZulu to fourth on the standings, one point above Mamelodi Sundowns, who were held 0-0 by Platinum Stars in the north-west university town of Potchefstroom.