Highlands hold Pirates 2-2 in thriller

Highlands Park and Orlando Pirates played to a thrilling 2-2 draw at Makhulong Stadium on Saturday night in one of the best matches of the 2018/19 Absa Premiership season.

The result is a blow to the Buccaneers’ title hopes, leaving them five points adrift of leaders Bidvest Wits, while the Lions of the North remain in eighth place (pending the result of the delayed kick-off between SuperSport United and Cape Town City).

Pirates offered the first threat on goal as early as the eighth minute, with Vincent Pule showing some fine footwork to open space for a low shot from a tight angle, but goalkeeper Marlon Heugh did well to smother the effort.

Highlands almost claimed the lead in the 18th minute when Peter Shalulile found Tendai Ndoro with a good cross – the former Bucs striker saw his effort saved by Siyabonga Mpontshane, before Innocent Maela cleared the loose ball off the goal line.

The Lions of the North continued to look dangerous in attack through the first half, with Mpontshane denying Sphiwe Mahlangu twice either side of a great chance for Mlungisi Mbunjana on 35 minutes which saw the midfielder shoot wide from close range.

The Buccaneers weathered the storm from the hosts to head into halftime with the score level at 0-0.

Pirates hit the woodwork early in the second half, with Maela’s cross from the left deflecting off a defender and rebounding off the face of the crossbar, while Abbubaker Mobara was unable to take advantage of the subsequent loose ball.

Highlands then claimed the lead in the 59th minute when Mahlangu provided a superb low finish from the right side of the penalty area, but Pirates were only behind for a matter of seconds as they immediately carved up the hosts’ defence and Thembinkosi Lorch fired home from close range to make it 1-1 on the hour mark.

The Lions of the North went back in front midway through the second half, and this time Mahlangu turned provider. His excellent pass put Shalulile in on goal and the forward picked up a favourable bounce in a challenge with the ‘keeper before doing well to keep his feet and tap the ball home on the turn.

Bucs looked to mount a comeback in the final phase of the game and used their substitutes’ bench to try and change the momentum, introducing attackers Kudakwashi Mahachi and Thamsanqa Gabuza.

Both were involved in levelling the game at 2-2 in the 81st minute: Gabuza was a powerful presence in the middle of the penalty area which caused Heugh to drop a left-flank cross, and Mahachi provided a fine finish from the loose ball to restore parity.

The teams will return to Absa Premiership action next week: Pirates will be at home to Chippa United on Tuesday 8 January, while Highlands will be away to AmaZulu on Saturday 12 January.

Highlands Park (0) 2 (Mahlangu 59’, Shalulile 66’)

Orlando Pirates (0) 2 (Lorch 60’, Mahachi 81’)

Highlands: Heugh, Sibande, Williams, L. Mokoena, Msimango, Rae (Motsepe 82’), Mbatha (Haoseb 71’), Mahlangu, Shalulile, Ndoro, Mbunjana (Mogaila 55’)

Pirates: Mpontshane, Mobara (Mntambo 80’), Maela, Jele, Marcelo, Nyatama, Lorch, Mlambo, Shonga(Mahachi 77’), Pule (Gabuza 77’), Mulenga.