Efficient United pip exciting Pirates
SuperSport United did not win any beauty prizes during the 2008/09 season. Gavin Hunt's efficient, industrious side did, however, do enough to hold off Orlando Pirates' late sprint for the line and retain their South African Premiership crown.
"Maybe we didn't have the great finish to the league, but I think we showed lots of character," said the 44-year-old coach. "We fought hard and we played as a team. Sometimes it's not about playing nice football. We had a balanced squad and in that way, we complemented each other."
The goals of Anthony Laffour headlined a number of United's victories, although, discreetly, the labour of midfielder Hlompo Kekana was equally pivotal to the Matsantsantsa.
Orlando Pirates, at one stage seemingly out of contention, admirably took the title race into the final round, but ultimately lost out on goal difference. Dutch coach Ruud Krol was left to rue a feeble start to the campaign, in which his team looked blunt in attack and took five rounds to register their first victory.
As the campaign progressed, so did the Pirates' prolificacy and progress. Defender Lucas Thwala, midfielder Benson Mhlongo and much-improved forward Katlego Mashego all impressed, but it was the irrepressible genius of Teko Modise that was most responsible for them slicing resiliently at SuperSport's lead.
It was a season to forget for two former champions, Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs. Having rehired their former coach Muhsin Ertugral, the latter were hoping to return to the top of the podium, while the Sundowns had similar aspirations following the arrivals of ex-Bafana Bafana star Sibusiso Zuma and Zambian goal-getter Collins Mbesuma. However, the Chiefs could only run home in third, and the Sundowns, who had three coaches within eight months, finished a lowly ninth.
Bay United lasted only nine months among the elite. The Eastern Cape side ended up 12 points shy of second-bottom Thanda Royal Zulu, who will play off against the runners-up in the First Division for a place in the 2009/10 Premiership, which is where Maritzburg United, Platinum Stars and Bloemfontein Celtic will remain after narrowly avoiding a bottom-two finish.