Orlando Pirates grabbed a dramatic 1-1 draw against Kaizer Chiefs and regained top place in the South African title race today after the Soweto derby was twice halted for pitch repairs. Thulasizwe Mbuyane headed the equaliser three minutes into stoppage time at a packed Soccer City after Kaizer Motaung had nodded the Chiefs ahead 12 minutes after the kick-off.
A draw was a fair outcome as the Chiefs bossed the first half and Pirates the second on a 'cabbage patch' pitch that had not recovered from a U2 concert two weeks ago at the venue where Spain won the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final™. Midway through each half the referee stopped play for a 'water break' and while coaches and players conversed, the ground staff rushed around repairing divots caused mainly by tackles.
The result lifted the Pirates to 46 points, the same total as Ajax Cape Town, but the Soweto club have a superior goal difference and reclaimed top spot after losing it Friday when their rivals won 1-0 at home to Free State Stars. Kaizer Chiefs are two points behind with 44 points and eight rounds left.
The fifth clash of the Soweto rivals this season started with the Chiefs slight favourites having slammed three goals past the Pirates in convincing championship and League Cup final victories late last year.
And the belief that the black and gold would complete a hat-trick gained early credence as they took control and Motaung connected with a Jimmy Tau cross while stand-in goalkepeer Senzo Meyiwa hesitated. Meyiwa was called up by Dutch coach Ruud Krol after first choice Moeneeb Josephs, who helped hosts South Africa defeat France in the FIFA World Cup last June, was ruled out for the rest of the season by a shoulder injury.
Having survived plenty of Chiefs pressure, the Pirates fought back after the break, but missed several chances and could have had a penalty before Mbuyane equalised off a Ndumiso Mabena cross to the far post.
Long-time pacesetters Mamelodi Sundowns surged back into contention on 41 points by defeating Wits University 3-0 in a Pretoria township. Katlego Mphela, who recently ended a training boycott after Sundowns refused his transfer request, scored twice in the opening half as the five-time champions brought a good run by Wits to an abrupt halt.
Promoted Vasco da Gama trailed and then led twice before settling for a 3-3 draw away to AmaZulu that left both clubs in the bottom half of the table but well clear of the relegation zone.