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Black Panther helped Orlando Pirates beat Kaizer Chiefs

The picture has become clearer at both the top and bottom of the Absa Premiership as the championship race has now likely been cut to a two-horse race, with one outsider lurking in the shadows. 

Orlando Pirates' 3-1 victory over Kaizer Chiefs in the Soweto Derby was not quite as emphatic as the scoreline suggests, but has in all probability dealt a fatal blow to Chiefs' title hopes this season. 

Mamelodi Sundowns continue to head the table with 43 points from their 23 matches, four ahead of Pirates (39 points), and comfortably in front of the chasing pack of Free State Stars (37), Maritzburg United (35) and Chiefs (35).

It is hard to see Sundowns capitulating to the point where United and Chiefs would be allowed back into the reckoning, leaving Pirates as their major challengers and Stars as outsiders in the championship push.

The victory for Pirates was worth much more than the three points, providing validation for the methods of coach Micho Sredojevic and a massive boost in confidence going into the final months of the campaign.

The Serbian coach revealed that the team had been lifted by a trip to the movies in the days before the game.

"We worked very hard during the week. On Tuesday we went for a team-building session and watched the film Black Panther. It was a special injection of motivation to us to go and prove the point," Sredojevic told reporters.

"Getting three points against the [Soweto and title] rivals is an achievement. But we are not getting carried away and have absolute respect for all opponents. Now we forget this game and move on." 

Sredojevic has put all thoughts of winning the league aside and says he is only focused on the team's next fixture, away at Cape Town City in the Nedbank Cup on March 14.

"We are not thinking of the league, the league is now. We are thinking only about the Nedbank Cup, that is where about our total focus is." 
He has also refused to rule out the chances of Chiefs staging a miraculous comeback.

"There are two other big teams, one with the coach that is five years with the team [Pitso Mosimane at Sundowns] and one that is three years with the team [Steve Komphela at Chiefs]. 
"For eight months we are now together, and the biggest driving force is motivation and seeing how players respond to the work and how they are improving on a daily basis. 

"There are so many things we need to work on and improve so that football does not punch us back in the next [league] game against Golden Arrows, or even against Cape Town City.

"After match 30 we will know where we are. We want to be a dominant side locally, we want to go into Africa and put a star there, this is our intention.

"We are happy where we are, but still we believe we have huge space to improve and develop. When time comes that we are the final product, with all due respect to our opponents, we expect that we will be above them." 

Sredojevic reveals that he was as hurt as anybody by Pirates' troubles last season, when they finished 11th, their worst league placing for 30 years, and suffered 6-1 and 6-0 losses to SuperSport United and Sundowns respectively.

"The souls of our supporters are in pain from what they have suffered in the past. Even myself, I spoke with the chairman [Dr Irvin Khoza] after we conceded six goals against Sundowns.

"I was feeling terrible even though I was 5,000 kilometres away [in Uguanda]. We are still under that trauma, but we are doing everything possible to turn from sad faces to happy faces. 

"We are challenging match by match, how far it will take us we will see. But the faces of our players tell us we are working with born winners. You can try and give belief to someone, but if there is not self-belief ... they should not like to even lose in a training match."

Platinum Stars again gave up a lead to lose 2-1 at home to Free State Stars and they now look certainties for relegation having been marooned at the foot of the table, seven points behind Ajax Cape Town in the relative safety of the Promotion/Relegation Play-Off position.

Even with a game in hand, it is hard to see how they can claw back that deficit having only won three of their 23 matches to date.

That means there will be a scrap to avoid finishing second-bottom, with just three points separating Ajax and Golden Arrows in 10th as Chippa United, SuperSport United, AmaZulu and Polokwane City all remain in the mix.


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