Stellenbosch FC fell agonizingly short of reaching this season’s MTN8 final despite recording a 1-0 win over Orlando Pirates on Sunday.
Steve Barker’s side came within a solitary strike of reaching the 2023 MTN8 final after recording a 1-0 win over Orlando Pirates at Orlando Stadium but ultimately fell short on the away goal rule after ending the two-legged tie with a 2-2 scoreline on aggregate.
Knowing that they needed to score at least twice to overcome a 2-1 first-leg deficit, Stellies emerged from the tunnel with a point to prove and came close to opening the scoring with six minutes on the clock when Orlando Pirates ‘keeper Sipho Chaine reacted smartly to cut off Devin Titus’ cross to Iqraam Rayners.
The hosts responded with a couple of half-chances of their own, and Sage Stephens had to react quickly to snuff out an opportunity following a slight miscommunication in defence with Athenkosi Mcaba.
That scare went unpunished and just minutes later it was at the other end of the pitch where the deadlock was broken. After an attacking corner was cleared by Pirates’ defence, the ball landed at Rayners’ feet at the edge of the box and he fired home past Chaine with a deflected effort which was later ruled as an own goal by Zakhele Lepasa.
Stephens was then called into action again with around eight minutes remaining in the half when he pulled off a smart diving save to deny Deon Hotto’s curling free-kick effort.
Devin Titus then had the chance to double his side’s lead and found the back of the net with a lobbed effort, but the referee’s whistle had already blown after the forward was questionably adjudged to have been offside when his making his run.
A tight call in the end, but it was how the first half ended, with Stellies leading 1-0 on the day and within touching distance of a first-ever appearance in the MTN8 final.
The match opened then up in the second half as the players fatigued, while Rayners had to be withdrawn with an injury, and Stellenbosch and Orlando Pirates continued to trade half-chances in search of the match-deciding goal.
The Buccaneers arguably came closest to finding that breakthrough with around 10 minutes remaining when Lepasa mazed his way through the box and fired at goal, leaving Stephens to effect a finger-tip save to direct his deflected effort over the bar.
While they were denied on that occasion, it mattered little in the end as Stellies were unable to find the elusive second goal that would have secured the club’s progression to the final. A proud performance yielded a 1-0 win on the day, but ultimately the tie saw Pirates progress with a 2-2 scoreline by virtue of the away goals rule.