21 May 2012
Orlando Pirates secured back-to-back Premier Soccer League (PSL) titles on Saturday, when they preserved their two-point lead at the top of the standings with a 4-2 victory over Golden Arrows at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.
Only one team, Moroka Swallows, had a chance to catch Pirates when the final round of matches began, but Pirates’ victory prevented the Birds from snatching the title on the final weekend. Swallows, though, did all they could do, defeating Maritzburg United 1-0 away from home to finish only two points behind the Buccaneers.
Despite the fact that they repeated as champions, it was far from a smooth season for Pirates. Club owner Irvin Khoza’s very questionable decision to part ways with coach Ruud Krol after Pirates’ won three titles the previous season came back to haunt him when Krol’s replacement, Jairo Leal, failed to get the results the Buccaneers were capable of.
The Brazilian quit at the beginning of April after being suspended in March. The club’s comment at the time was that Leal had said he “could not see a way forward”.
At the time, the Soweto giants were lying second in the league, but had lost in the preliminary round of the Caf Champions League and had been beaten in the last-16 of the Nedbank Cup by Free State Stars.
Augusto Palacios was appointed to take over from Leal and Pirates responded while some other teams faltered as the season headed towards its climax.
Change of fortune
For Swallows, it was a remarkable season considering how they had narrowly avoided relegation in the 2010/11 season.
The club’s change of fortune began the previous when Gordon Igesund, a winner of league titles with Manning Rangers, Orlando Pirates, Mamelodi Sundowns and Santos, was hired and helped Swallows avoid relegation. Given a full season in charge, Igesund lifted the Birds to second in the league as they became the highest scoring team in the PSL.
Much of that had to do with Igesund’s ability to get the best out of striker Siyabonga Nomvethe. At the age of 34, Nomvethe produced 20 goals, far and away the leading mark in the league, with Eleazar Rodgers of Santos finishing second with 12 goals to his name.
Gavin Hunt again did wonders with SuperSport United as the club finished third, four points behind Pirates and ahead of big money clubs Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs, after they closed the season with a 2-1 victory at Bloemfontein Celtic.
For a club with the financial resources of Sundowns, finishing fourth was a disappointing season. For supporters of fan favourites Kaizer Chiefs, a fifth place finish was even more disappointing and that fact was underlined by the dismissal of coach Vladimir Vermezovic in April with seven matches remaining in the season.
Jomo Cosmos continued the club’s yo-yo existence of winning promotion and immediately being relegated as they won only two of their 30 games whilst drawing 13 times. They finished eight points lower than the second bottom club, Santos.
The Cape Town club managed a 1-0 win over Cosmos on the last day of the season, but when Black Leopards beat Ajax Cape Town 3-1, Santos was consigned to the playoffs for a place in the PSL next season.
On the subject of Ajax Cape Town, it was a poor season for the team which had gone into the final fixture of the previous season two points clear of Pirates, but ended up missing out on the title on goal difference. This time around they managed only ninth place, winning 11 matches, drawing seven and losing 12 times.
The University of Pretoria lifted the National First Division (NFD) title to secure a spot in the PSL next season. Chippa United and Thanda Royal Zulu, after finishing second and third respectively in the NFD, will face Santos in playoff matches for the remaining PSL place.
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