Mandla Ncikazi banking on returning players to help Orlando Pirates improve league form
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Johannesburg – Orlando Pirates’ caretaker coach Mandla Ncikazi is confident they'll be able to handle the congested schedule in the final stretch of the year, especially with the help of some of their key players who've returned to training after enduring injuries.
The Sea Robbers have endured a rollercoaster outing for the better part of this first half of the season. They are seventh on the log with 15 points, tied with eighth-placed AmaZulu and 11 behind leaders and champions Mamelodi Sundowns.
Although they've had some good moments, Pirates' blemish has been their poor conversation rate and defensive frailties. The former haunted them in the last two games, losing to rivals Kaizer Chiefs and drawing with Golden Arrows away.
But they’ll be aiming to ensure that winless streak doesn’t extend to three matches in a row when they visit Stellenbosch FC at the Danie Craven Stadium tonight (5:30pm). Stellies are second on the log, five points behind Sundowns.
Given that the Capetonians are on a purple patch, being one of the two unbeaten sides in the league alongside Sundowns, Pirates will have to be at their best. But Ncikazi says they’ll be able to grind out results with the return of players.
“It’s crazy, but I hope the fixtures are like this for everybody,” Ncikazi said. “I am just happy that some of the players are creeping in from injuries. We need a bigger pool of players, and we need to give some confidence to the current players.”
The 52-year-old continued “We need to keep unity within the team so that we can face this schedule that’s very tight. Not only now but also in December, the schedule will be very tight. But I think as Pirates we’ll be able to come out of this.”
Trio Thembinkosi Lorch, Innocent Maela and Zakhele Lepasa returned to full training last week after long-term injuries. Zakhele, who had been out of action for almost a year, couldn’t hide his excitement of being fit and ready to play again.
Lepasa took to his personal social media platforms to express how hard work has paid off, saying: “...Where we grew up they sling onions. No tears, when you cut up, you keep running. Suck it up, if you check our moves, we’re kings from it.”
In the absence of marksmen Lorch, Lepasa and Gabadinhlo Mhango, Pirates have had to look to Tshegofatso Mabasa and newbie Kwame Peprah for goals. But they’ve been battling also, with no striker scoring since September 18.
As a result of that poor run, Pirates have had to also look at Boitumelo Radiopane for goals against Abafana Bes’thende. The 19-year-old, who was making his senior debut, was introduced in the last 13 minutes at Princess Magogo.
He had a decent cameo. As a result, Ncikazi said he’s hoping to see more of the young players coming through the development ranks. With the DStv Diski Challenge side, Radiopane has racked up seven goals so far in the ongoing season.