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Orlando Pirates sailing the high seas once more

Orlando Pirates fans Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

The sight of Orlando Pirates near the top of the Premier Soccer League table will be most welcome for long-suffering fans of The Buccaneers, as the green shoots of revival continue to grow at the ailing Soweto club.

Certainly, there is still much work to be done, but new coach Micho Sredojevic will be pleased with how his side controlled most of the game in their 1-0 success over Ajax Cape Town on Tuesday.

The opposition might have been mediocre, but these were matches that Pirates were drawing, or even losing last season as they slipped to their worst league finish in 30 years.

Seven points from a possible nine is a fine start to the new league campaign and although it is still early days, a bit of the old swagger has returned to the team, and in truth, they should have won by a much greater margin against Ajax.

It is a point acknowledged by Sredojevic in the post-match press conference, believing his team now can control games, but admitting that they lacked the killer instinct to make the result safe.

Certainly there has been more energy about the team this season, as they appeared to be coasting through many matches in the last campaign, even when trailing.

That energy has been brought by Sredojevic, who demands high standards and is not afraid to drop key players if he feels he is not getting the level of effort and application he should.

Players such as Thabo Matlaba, Mpho Makola and Ntsikelelo Nyauza appear to have a new lease of life, and along with newly-acquired goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands, have helped to make the team more difficult to break down.

Pirates conceded 40 goals in the last campaign, the fourth worst record in the league, but this year have let in only one in four-and-a-half hours of football.

Given that they always bank on themselves to nick a goal at some stage at the other end, it has been the major reason for their turn around in fortunes so far.

Sredojevic said when he arrived at the club ahead of the season that his first aim was to make them more difficult to beat as they conceded too many soft goals in the previous year.

He can put a tick next to that box now.

They may not be playing attractive, flowing football, but for Pirates results are all that matter after their recent problems. The pretty stuff can come later.

Sredojevic has also demanded that his players be flexible in where and how they play, and says his decision on who he features where is final.

"A good player can play anywhere and in the approach we have, I want to have players who are no 'excuse-makers'," he told reporters after Tuesday's game.

"By that I mean players who don't moan and say 'the coach is playing me out of my position'. We want to put in place a culture where players accept where the coach wants him to play and to make that happen we rotate their positions in training."

He adds that much has changed in the South African game since his last stint with Pirates in the 2006/07 season, which lasted just six months.

"Since I last worked in South African football the attention to detail has vastly improved. You can't hide, there are no more ambushes. Everyone sees every single detail, there are eyes everywhere."

Sredojevic will also be delighted that Ghanaian forward Bernard Morrison finally broke his duck against Ajax, some 14 months after joining the club from AS Vita in DR Congo.

Morrison has shown a lot of promise in matches up until now, but lacked a clinical touch and was also beset by injuries in his first season. If they can get him firing he will be a real asset as there is no doubting his quality.

Indeed, the search for goals is Sredojevic's next task and the loss of Tendai Ndoro to Saudi Arabia does not leave him with many experienced options.

Powerful forward Thamsanqa Gabuza does a job in bullying defences, but is unlikely to score 15 goals in a season.

Luvuyo Memela will chip in with a few, while Theminkosi Lorch and Thabiso Kutumela have yet to impress on a regular basis.

The sight of 17-year-old forward Lyle Foster on the bench on Tuesday night was an interesting one, and perhaps a portent that Sredojevic sees him as a potential answer to their bluntness in front of goal.

"Bringing Lyle to the senior team is in recognition of the potential and promise he has shown. He is a special talent and one that we need to nurture," Sredojevic told the Pirates website.

"We need to make sure that we exclude him from the pressure that comes with being in the senior setup. We can't afford to lose him because he is still young so it's important for us to create an environment where he can play his natural game.

"It's important for a young player like him to take this all in, enjoy his time and each moment, and express himself freely. We will help him to extract that quality that can make him a complete player."

It remains unlikely that Pirates will be league champions this season given the ground they need to make up on the rest in terms of quality across the park, but they already look a different, happier side to last season and that should be exciting for Buccaneers fans.

Next up is a difficult away trip to Maritzburg United on Friday night, which presents another chance for them to show they are a team on the up and no longer a sinking ship.