Kaizer Chiefs seek Christmas cheer in KwaZulu-Natal

Kaizer Chiefs players chat during the Absa Premiership 2019/20 game between Stellenbosch FC and Kaizer Chiefs at Cape Town Stadium on 27 November 2019.
Kaizer Chiefs players chat during the Absa Premiership 2019/20 game between Stellenbosch FC and Kaizer Chiefs at Cape Town Stadium on 27 November 2019.
Image: © Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

For Kaizer Chiefs‚ an already happy Christmas can become an even merrier won should the Absa Premiership leaders manage one last win of 2019 against Maritzburg United at Harry Gwala Stadium on Sunday.

The year 2019 was a decided game of two halves for Chiefs.

In the first they matched their worst league record finish. Amakhosi came in at ninth in a 2018-19 season where Giovanni Solinas’s early reign had been muddled‚ and Ernst Middendorp took over to show initial signs of improvement‚ but which ultimately flattered to deceive.

This was confirmed when Chiefs could not beat lowly First Division TS Galaxy in the Nedbank Cup final at Moses Mabhida Stadium in May. With that the country’s biggest-supported team‚ the glamour trophy side of the 1970s to 1990s‚ went to an unprecedented fourth campaign trophyless.

Middendorp managed to convince his management he was worthy of a longer stay than the less-than six months of his likeable but out-of-depth Italian predecessor.

So far‚ Chiefs have not had too much reason to look back. They travel to KwaZulu-Natal capital Pietermaritzburg with a nine-point lead in the PSL over second-placed biggest threat Mamelodi Sundowns.

Amakhosi have lost once and drawn once in 13 league matches‚ winning 11 of those in a near-flawless run in terms of results. The football under Middendorp has not always necessarily been sparkling‚ but also cannot be accused of having been in any way unexciting‚ with particularly Amakhosi’s Samir Nurkovic-led frontline capable of fireworks.

The blemish has been another choke in their lone cup competition (Chiefs did not qualify for the MTN8) where they lost to Maritzburg United in the Telkom Knockout semifinals.

That defeat – and Middendorp’s self-destructive combustibility‚ which‚ despite his obvious best intentions to reel it in‚ seemingly always lurks millimetres below the surface – points to some fragility remaining despite the results and soaring confidence.

If Sundowns – who unlike Chiefs‚ have points on the board in 2019-20 in terms of a trophy‚ because they beat Maritzburg in the TKO final – can find a run of form‚ then for the first time Chiefs will be put under pressure by a serious chasing team.

SuperSport United and Bidvest Wits lurk as potentially as hungry chasers.

And if Chiefs’ castle built this season is indeed a little fragile at the foundations‚ being put under such pressure might shake the walls down.

For that reason‚ Amakhosi would love to preserve around a 10-point lead going into the Christmas break against Eric Tinkler’s doughty Maritzburg.

Another chapter will be added to the remarkable story of one of the world’s great football clubs‚ founded as a breakaway from Orlando Pirates in 1970‚ when they turn 50 on January 7.

To go onto perhaps their unlikeliest league title yet – given the context of their recent struggles‚ and journeyman reputation of their coach – would crown the anniversary season in a manner only a club of such rich history could manage or deserve.