Since then, Pirates just haven’t had a top scoring player. Or perhaps, they just haven’t scored enough goals?
Between 2003/04 and 2006/07, the ‘Buccaneers’ were always in the league’s Top 4 for goals scored (4th, 2nd, 3rd, 4th). While there is no trophy for this, the plaudits flow when you consider that they were within touching distance of the title in two of those seasons.
2004/05 is rightly remembered for Collins Mbesuma’s 25 league goals leading ‘Amakhosi’ to the title, so it is easy to forget Pirates could have won the league on the last day. Their 60 points was just two shy of Chiefs and would have been enough to win the title in 11 of the 23 seasons since the PSL was established in 1996.
This Kosta Papic outfit remains the only Pirates side to score more than 50 in a 30-game campaign (52). They also came 2nd in 2005/6, losing out on the league following a draw in a title ‘decider’ against Sundowns on the final day. On both occasions, they would have won the league with six goals on the last day. These were still relatively good times for Pirates.
It was around this period that things started to change, at least in terms of goals. Pirates never once made the Top4 in the goal scoring charts between 2006/07 and 2010/11 (5th, 6th, 6th, 12th, 7th). Yet again, they narrowly missed out on the 2008/09 title by goal difference (SuperSport United had a +6 difference). This time, there was no consolation, the problems were internal. Only ten players scored in the league that season – the fewest since 2002/03. Having ten goal contributors is not necessarily a problem by itself (there were only 10 scorers when Pirates won the league in 2002/03). It only becomes a problem when your top scorer has 8 goals.
In 2009/10, Pirates scored 26 goals – the lowest output from a Pirates side in the PSL era. In part, this symbolised the nadir of their regression. It was the first time in PSL history that they fell below the league average and one of only two seasons they averaged less than a goal a game (alongside the horrendous 2016/17). With no trophies in the cabinet for 10 years, winning the treble in 2010/11 must have come as a welcome reprieve for all Pirates fans. Yet, the goalscoring problem never really went away. The title winners were still the 7th highest scorers in the league (41), and even 14th placed AmaZulu had more goals (43).
DOUBLE TREBLE WINNERS
As champions, Pirates were the league’s 4th highest scorers in 2011/12, thanks to Benni McCarthy’s 10 goals. They were 4th again in 2012/13, but still averaged less goals per game than the 2011 title winners. Hardly an improvement. Pirates would meander up and down the scorers charts between 2012 and 2017, twice dropping below the league average in four years. In three of those five seasons, the top scorers had 4, 5 and 7 goals. In the season that Kermit Erasmus (11) became the first Pirates player to exceed 10 league goals since Benedict ‘Tso’ Vilakazi, they ended as the league’s top scorers, averaging a 12-year high of 1.5 goals per game. Two seasons later, they were back below the league average. These were strange times for Pirates.
Enter Gabadinho Mhango, a player who has scored more league goals this season than any Pirates player has managed in a single season since Lesley Manyathela. Should he get a chance and score six more league goals this term, he’ll bag 20 goals, and become the 2nd highest goal getter for Pirates in the 30-game PSL era.
In one season, he’s already scored more league goals than the late Gift Leremi, Benni McCarthy, Phumudzo Manenzhe, Bennet Chenene and Excellent Walaza all did in their Pirates careers.
Whether he would become a successor to Lota & Manyathela or follow in the footsteps of Walaza and Tendai Ndoro (players who scored 10+ in just one season) remains to be seen.
Fortunately for Mhango, his form coincides with a three-year period where Pirates have significantly improved both their ratio and ranking. They averaged 1.5 goals per game in the last two seasons, something they did only once in the previous 12. They have ranked 2nd, 3rd and 2nd in goals scored in that time.
Perhaps, these will be good times for Pirates.
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By Opta Jabu