When leading Baroka FC 2-0 with 11 minutes to go, former Orlando Pirates coach Rhulani Mokwena attempted to be expansive and threw in striker Tshegofatso Mabaso for another striker, Gabadinho Mhango.
The result? The game ended 2-2.
Leading 2-1 against Chippa United and with seven minutes to go last weekend, new coach Josef Zinnbauer sacrificed an attacking player, Thembinkosi Lorch, for the defence-minded Thabiso Monyane.
In the same game, the German mentor later called in defender Alfred Ndengane for striker Mhango with two minutes remaining to consolidate their slender lead.
The result? Three points in the bag and Pirates are now second on the Absa Premiership log.
This is one example of how Zinnbauer has helped the Buccaneers turn the corner – with tactical discipline.
It is not surprising that Pirates are showing a significant turnaround since the arrival of the 49-year-old at the club in December.
Under Zinnbauer, Pirates have gone seven games without a loss, going home with a tally of six wins and a draw.
Another impressive accomplishment is that Pirates have not conceded more than one goal in a match since – something that used to be the team’s Achilles heel.
Zinnbauer seems to have found a formula to shut the door and not allow opposition teams to breach Pirates’ defence easily.
Here are some of the noticeable changes that have happened at Bucs:
Zinnbauer still has the same players, and has just tweaked the squad a bit. But what is evident is the unity within the team. Judging by how the players celebrate and embrace each other when they score goals, they seem happy. Even after conceding, they don’t drop their heads.
This was hardly the case previously. From the outside, it looks like Zinnbauer has given everyone a challenge – to prove themselves at training to earn a place in the team.
The Ndengane factor
He might not be a regular, but the former Bloemfontein Celtic defender is the first to jump up from the bench every time a goal is scored.
This is the kind of spirit every team needs – whether players are on the field or on the bench, they must celebrate together.
Despite being used sparingly mainly to protect the lead, Ndengane still feels part of the team and has not shown any signs of disgruntlement due to being left on the bench.
The mood seems to have changed in the dressing room since the appointment of Zinnbauer.
Although there was no clear case of favouritism under Mokwena, some of the players who were struggling to find game time before have suddenly become regulars.
Nobody could explain why the likes of Luvuyo Memela and Abel Mabaso were not playing under Mokwena.
If there’s one major thing that has changed, it is how Pirates are playing tactically. They are defending as a unit and everyone is behind the ball more often when Pirates don’t have possession.
Vincent Pule is now playing more as left winger than a central midfielder, which has allowed Ben Motshwari and Fortune Makaringe to play more in the centre. This gives the side more balance in the middle of the park.
The big turnaround
Not so long ago, the Buccaneers were hardly mentioned among the league title contenders. But, having forced their way back into contention, those who don’t give them a chance do so at their own peril. With 10 games to go, there will be twists and turns, but Pirates should not be written off.