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Pirates seek to end Telkom Knockout bogey and finally lift a trophy

Orlando Pirates coach Milutin Sredojevic reacts to a referee's decision Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Much is made of Kaizer Chiefs' long wait for silverware, but for their bitter Soweto rivals Orlando Pirates the barren run without a trophy is even longer, as they prepare to tackle a competition that has provided plenty of heart-ache in the past.

Pirates have not added to their trophy cabinet since winning the 2014 Nedbank Cup, despite reaching four knockout finals since and finishing runners-up in the league.

Their lack of trophies has not garnered the same headlines as Chiefs' club record three-season winless run, but the pressure will be growing on coach Micho Sredojevic to prove that the cash splashed on players and expensive backroom staff members was in fact money well spent.

Not that the Telkom Knockout will fill fans with much optimism - Pirates have reached the final of this competition on eight occasions and only lifted the trophy once, in 2011 when they beat Bidvest Wits 3-1 in the decider.

They have, for whatever reason, found it comfortably the most challenging of the South African domestic competitions down the years, and on Saturday welcome Chippa United to the Orlando Stadium for the start of another shot at the title.

"There are so many aspects and ingredients that make a final product," Sredojevic told reporters.

"Positive competition is inside [the team] and I can assure you that we have still not seen the best of Orlando Pirates. The best is still to come!

"Any new competition is a new chance to start afresh. We want to give performances and results in terms of our ambition, we want to win.

"We must give respect to our opponents, and we will focus only on the next match against Chippa United, to get the performance and results that our supporters are expecting to qualify us for the next round."

Pirates' chances have potentially been boosted at both ends of the pitch, with the long-awaited return to fitness of goalkeeper Brilliant Khuzwayo and the scoring form in a national team jersey of Justin Shonga.

Khuzwayo, signing from Chiefs at the start of the season, has not yet played a single minute due to an on-going ankle issue that now looks to be finally resolved.

He could well make his bow on Saturday, in preparation for having him ready for next week's Soweto Derby, in what will be a major psychological boost for the side given that he is regarded as their undisputed number one.

"We are happy that we have four goalkeepers now that are competing for a place in the side and he is in contention," a coy Sredojevic continued.

"He is a generator of positive energy in the team. We have been beside him when he went for his operation. We are very fortunate to have such a quality human being like Brilliant. But we are happy to have him back and he has put himself in line for competition with his colleagues."

More good news is the fact that Vincent Pule has been passed fit after he was forced to miss Bafana Bafana's Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Seychelles.

"Pule didn't play in our last match against AmaZulu and he pulled out of the Bafana Bafana squad. He has come back and has worked very hard and is on the brink of being at his best. We are looking forward to have Pule's best possible set-pieces.," Sredojevic said of the player's return.

Shonga netted twice for Zambia in their Nations Cup clashes against Guinea-Bissau in the past week, and Sredojevic is hopeful that will be translated into his club form after just a single goal this season so far this season, and that from the penalty-spot.

"The moment he arrived back for training I asked him if he had brought his scoring boots with him," Sredojevic joked.

"But seriously, he had his problems in July and August. He has improved a lot and has returned to where he belongs, in the starting line-up.

"He worked really hard in the last match he was just unlucky to miss those chances which could have made him the hero.

"In that competitive mood, scoring at home and away against Guinea Bissau, this is something we are looking to bank on. But it will not come automatically. He needs to fully focus on our shirt so that scoring goals transfers to the black and white colours of Pirates.

"I know that he is now fully focused and concentrated. Strikers get confidence by scoring goals."

Pirates have not lost in the first round of the Telkom Knockout since 2007 when they were beaten on penalties by Benoni Premier United. They have already beaten Chippa United 1-0 in Port Elizabeth in the league this season.