A valiant Free State Stars side went down 2-1 against Orlando Pirates in Soweto on Saturday night, with a late comeback not proving quite enough against the Absa Premiership leaders.
The first half was a very subdued affair, as the Stars defence managed to keep the Buccaneers forwards well under wraps.
The visitors started brightly, with Relebogile Mokhuoane offering an early shot from long range to force a smart save out of Wayne Sandilands, before Makhehleni Makhaula tested the keeper with a long-range effort as well.
As the first half wore on, Pirates were offering precious little for their fans to get excited about, and the small contingent of Stars fans would have been far happier with what was transpiring on the pitch.
Thembinkosi Lorch did look dangerous shortly after the half-hour mark, but his charge up the field was snuffed out, while at the other end Sifiso Mbhele tried to guide his header goalwards only to miss the target.
The first half ended without the table toppers managing a single shot at target, much to the pleasure of Stars coach Nikola Kavazovic, who seemed to have won the tactical battle against his his Serbian countryman Milutin Sredojevic.
Unfortunately, all of Stars’ good work in the first half was quickly undone as they gave away a penalty just two minutes after the break.
Former Pirates defender Rooi Mahamutsa brought down Amigo Memela in the box, allowing Musa Nyatama to step up and convert from the spot to put the home side in the lead.
That goal seemed to take the pressure off Pirates, and they soon doubled their lead in the 55th minute through Justin Shonga.
Innocent Maela was the man who created the space on the left flank, and when he tried to chip the keeper after playing a one-two with Shonga, the ball ricocheted off Stars keeper Samkelo Mbambo and fell kindly for Shonga, who headed home the rebound.
Kavazovic rang the changes to try and get Stars back into the match, and new arrival Sibusiso Hlubi’s corner kick soon found the head of Simisani Mathumo, who couldn’t convert.
Harris Tchilimbou also came close with a header as Stars tried to claw their way back into the match.
With eight minutes to play, Ea Lla Koto did manage to reduce the deficit when Eleazar Rodgers’s well-placed header found the back of the net.
That left Pirates with 10 nervous minutes to try and survive, which they just about managed to do as Stars went down in a narrow, battling defeat.