Pirates stay top in thrilling race

Soweto giants Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs won Wednesday to retain first and second places in a thrilling South African Premiership title race.

But Ajax Cape Town could only draw and ceded third spot to winners Mamelodi Sundowns with 12 rounds left in the pursuit of a 1.3million USD first prize -- the biggest on the continent.

With Santos held at home after surrendering a three-goal half-time lead, the championship chase in the richest African national football league is looking increasingly like a four-team contest. Former African champions Pirates have 38 points, Chiefs 36, Sundowns 35 and Ajax 34 with Cape Town neighbours Santos five points adrift in fifth place on the table.

Katlego Matlego and Thulasizwe Mbuyane scored in the opening half as Pirates triumphed 2-0 at their Soweto home against promoted Vasco da Gama from Cape Town, who were unlucky not to reduce arrears just before half-time.

Sthembiso Ngcobo was drafted in for injured leading league scorer Knowledge Musona and scored twice within eight minutes during the second half as Chiefs defeated Golden Arrows 2-1 in Indian Ocean city Durban.

Zambia-born former Portsmouth striker Collins Mbesuma struck the woodwork before pulling one goal back for Arrows, who played the closing stages a man short after Siyanda Zwane was red carded. Zimbabwean Nyasha Mushekwi scored in the first minute and compatriot Method Mwanjali was on target midway through the second half as Sundowns went to Soweto and won 2-0 against strugglers Moroka Swallows.

Victory was a welcome relief for Spanish coach Antonio Lopez, who needed a police escort from their Pretoria ground after a draw with Platinum Stars three days ago.

Bloemfontein Celtic hosted another title contender in the central city and had to settle for a point against Ajax as they did in recent clashes with Sundowns and Chiefs. Goal-shy Santos exceeded expectations by opening a 3-0 half-time advantage over visiting Free State Stars only for their usually mean defence to fall apart and concede three goals with Zambian Noah Chivuta equalising.

Bradley Grobler claimed the first Premiership hat-trick of the season and boosted his haul to seven goals as Platinum outplayed bottom-of-the-table Mpumalanga Black Aces 3-1 in Rustenburg.