Benni McCarthy must be the most frustrated man this side of the equator after watching title rivals Mamelodi Sundowns dig deep to outclass Orlando Pirates at Orlando Stadium on Sunday.

After a goalless first half‚ the classy Brazilians stepped up a gear in the second period to comfortably beat Pirates 3-0 in a game that showcased the Pretoria side’s abundance of talent in their ranks.

The result ensured  Sundowns returned to the Premier Soccer League (PSL) summit and dimmed McCarthy and AmaZulu’s hopes of staying at the top beyond this weekend after beating Golden Arrows on Saturday.

Pirates had held their own against the champions for 56 minutes of this enthralling league encounter and McCarthy’s AmaZulu would have been the biggest beneficiaries had his former club managed to hold Sundowns to a draw‚ or forced a win.

But things suddenly unravelled for Bucs in the 55th minute when referee Luxolo Badi ruled that Innocent Maela had handled the ball inside the area and awarded a penalty to the visitors‚ which proved to be the turning point.

Captain Ricardo Nascimento made no mistake from the spot beating Pirates goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands.

The build-up to the penalty would have made the Sundowns coaching trio of Manqoba Mngqithi‚ Rulani Mokwena and Steve Komphela proud as Pirates lost the ball in the middle of the park and after Themba Zwane found Aubrey Modiba on the other side of the pitch‚ the Downs man did well to pick out Peter Shalulile inside the area.

The elusive Shalulile did well to control the ball with his chest and after giving several black and white shirts the slip‚ the Namibian turned and fired a volley that struck Maela’s hand. Badi immediately pointed to the spot and Sundowns were well on their way.

The comedy of errors in the Pirates rearguard continued unabated in the 75th minute when captain Thulani Hlatshwayo and Sandilands contrived to gift Sundowns a second goal that effectively wrapped up the match for the visitors.

Sandilands put his own defenders under pressure when he rolled the ball to Ntsikelelo Nyauza just metres  from the goalmouth and as he tried to get himself out of trouble‚ he passed it to Hlatshwayo‚ who himself was caught in no-man’s-land.

A hesitant Hlatshwayo tried to get rid of the ball but it was intercepted by Gift Motupa‚ who passed the gift-wrapped present to a grateful Shalulile. The Sundowns striker did not need a second invitation and proceeded to punish the hapless Pirates‚ scoring his 10th strike of the season.

But the generous Pirates were not done and continued to hand out gifts.

Nyauza conceded a free-kick on the edge of the area and Lyle Lakay curled the ball around the Pirates defensive wall to beat Sandilands.

Mngqithi said he was pleased Sundowns picked themselves up to beat Pirates away from home after a tight first half.

“We could have done better and I believe there were some opportunities that were not utilised properly‚” he said.

Pirates coach Josef Zinnbauer bemoaned the chances they created in the first half. “We had a lot of possibilities‚ but not so clear‚” he said.

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