BLOEMFONTEIN Celtic defeated Orlando Pirates in a league game for the first time in almost five years on Sunday as Clifford Mulenga’s early goal handed them a 1-0 win over the reigning Absa Premiership champions at Free State Stadium.
Phunya Sele Sele last beat the Buccaneers in the league in January 2007 and a winless streak of three games heading into this encounter suggested they would have to wait longer to overcome a Pirates team who would be high on confidence after claiming the Telkom Knockout last weekend.
However, on a scorching hot day in the Free State, Celtic stole into an early lead and then defended like men possessed – especially in the second half – to claim three valuable points, keep up their unbeaten home record this season, and put a further dent into Bucs’ hopes of retaining their PSL title.
After a bright start from Pirates, it was in fact Celtic who drew first blood in the 14th minute when Clifford Mulenga controlled a ball in the penalty area, turned Rooi Mahamutsa inside-out, and then finished coolly into the top corner to make it 1-0.
It was the Zambian’s first goal since mid-September and broke a spell of almost 300 minutes in which Phunya Sele Sele had failed to find the back of the net in league football.
Following Celtic’s early strike, the Buccaneers began to move through the gears and dominated proceedings. A short while after a water break midway through the first half they should have pulled themselves level when Benni McCarthy got on the end of a great cross from Ndumiso Mabena, but the striker’s scuffed effort was saved by Patrick Tignyemb.
Around the half hour mark Mulenga began to exert influence on the game again, first firing a missile of a shot just wide of Senzo Meyiwa’s left-hand post before forcing the stand-in goalkeeper into a punch off his goal line with a dipping free kick five minutes later.
Celtic thought they had doubled their advantage in the dying minutes of regulation time before the break, but midfielder Letladi Madubanya was flagged offside from Kgotso Moleko’s route-one ball. Television replays suggested it was an incorrect – albeit very tight – call from the match officials.
Pirates started the second half strongly but struggled to create clear scoring opportunities. Twelve minutes after the restart Isaac Chansa made a half chance with a diagonal cross into the penalty area, but Thulasizwe Mbuyane was just unable to reach the ball.
With just under 20 minutes to play the Soweto giants finally forced Tignyemb into a save of note: the Cameroonian goalkeeper had to move sharply to his right to keep out a McCarthy free kick as the home side were forced further and further onto the back foot.
Yet Celtic still had a chance to kill the game off on 76 minutes when former Pirates striker Ezenwa Otorogu was gifted a shooting chance from a just a few metres out, but the Nigerian fluffed the opportunity.
In the 82nd minute another former Buccaneer, winger Phenyo Mongala, almost scored a sensational goal after he spotted Meyiwa off his line and went for a long range lob, but the ‘keeper quickly backpedalled and made an excellent save to keep side in the game.
However, Pirates could find no way past the home side’s defence in what remained of the match and even ended the match with ten men when Ruben Cloete picked up his second yellow card for remonstrating with the referee.
The result leaves Pirates in sixth place, seven points adrift of leaders Mamelodi Sundowns. Celtic are in tenth, just one point outside of the top half of the table.
Bloemfontein Celtic (1) 1 (Mulenga 14’)
Orlando Pirates 0
Celtic: Tignyemb; Moleko, Mathoho, Nthethe, Mahoa, Mshengu (Mongala 67’), Kerspuy, Madubanya, Venter (Otorogu 72’), Mulenga, Bacela (Mkhwanazi 80’)
Pirates: Meyiwa; Lekgwathi, Mahamutsa, Sangweni, Cloete, Segolela (Klate 61’), Manyisa, Chansa (Rantie 77’), Mbuyane, Mabena (Jali 61’), McCarthy.
The rest of the results for the past weekend are: SuperSport United 1 v Mamelodi Sundowns 3, Santos 1 v AmaZulu 2, Jomos Cosmos 1 v Maritzburg United 3, Platinum Stars 0 v Moroka Swallows 0, Golden Arrows 0 v Ajax Cape Town 1, Kaizer Chiefs 2 v Free State Stars 1 and Black Leopards 1 v BidVest Wits 2.-Backpagepix