AmaZulu ended 2021 with a narrow 2-1 loss away to Orlando Pirates in a DStv Premiership clash at the Orlando Stadium on Thursday evening.
Usuthu claimed the lead early on through Luvoyo Memela – who also hit the woodwork in search of an equaliser late on – but the Buccaneers ultimately claimed all three points thanks to a brace from Kwame Peprah.
Benni McCarthy’s charges are placed fifth on the log – 17 points off the pace of leaders Mamelodi Sundowns – after seeing the end of an 11-game unbeaten run which stretched back to October.
AmaZulu got off to a flyer and claimed the lead in the fourth minute: two former Pirates players combined to great effect, as Thabo Qalinge’s reverse pass allowed Luvoyo Memela to crack a left-footed shot past goalkeeper Siyabonga Mpontshane for 1-0.
The Buccaneers took their time to settle in a rhythm, but by the 20-minute mark they were threatening an equaliser, as AmaZulu first needed a key interception from Samkelo Mgwazelo, before Ntsikelelo Nyauza headed over from a corner kick.
The hosts then suffered an injury blow when defender Kwanda Mngonyama limped off in the 27th minute, replaced by Abel Mabaso.
However, 10 minutes later they drew level, with Deon Hotto doing well to provide a pull-back from the left by-line which was turned home by Kwame Peprah, who managed to squeeze the ball past both Tapelo Xoki and goalkeeper Neil Bosshoff to make it one apiece.
The half drew to a close with the score locked at 1-1, though the momentum was with the Buccaneers, as Usuthu were forced to cling on in the dying minutes before the break.
Both sides opted for changes at the start of the second half, with Pirates swapping out Ntsako Makhubela for Fortune Makaringe, while Augustine Mulenga replaced Thembela Sikhakhane.
Bucs then picked up where they left off and claimed the lead on 48 minutes through another goal from Peprah, who fired home a low, left-footed shot after being teed up by a quality through ball from Goodman Mosele.
AmaZulu had two great chances to level the game just after the hour mark, with both Qalinge and Mulenga missing out – the former skewed a shot wide after being unable to sort out his feet quick enough, while the latter was denied by a brilliant last-ditch challenge from Hotto of all people.
Pirates substitute Terrence Dzvukamanja had the chance to end the game as a contest on 71 minutes when Makaringe’s pass put him on goal, but the Zimbabwean saw his effort strike the upright and rebound away to safety.
AmaZulu also struck the woodwork in their efforts to claim an equaliser late on, with Mulenga latching onto a loose ball after Siphelele Mthembu had caused trouble with his physicality, only to see his strike from the left of the box rattle the post.
The teams are scheduled to return to DStv Premiership action in mid-February 2022 – after the Africa Cup of Nations – with AmaZulu at home to TS Galaxy and Pirates at home to Golden Arrows.
Orlando Pirates (1) 2 (Peprah 37’ 48’)
AmaZulu (1) 1 (Memela 4’)
Pirates: Mpontshane, Shandu (Hlatshwayo 67’), Mngonyama (Mabaso 27’), Nyauza, Maela, Mosele, Motshwari, Makhubela (Makaringe 46’), Lorch (Dzvukamanja 67’), Hotto, Peprah (Lepasa 83’)
AmaZulu: Boshoff, Sikhakhane (Mulenga 46’), Mgwazela, Xoki, Gumede, Zulu (Mthembu 85’), Buchanan (Mlambo 85’), Makhaula, Qalinge (Magaqa 73’), Memela, Ntuli (De Jong 73’)