Heartbreak for Kaizer Chiefs as they have the league in their grasp‚ but blow it

Samir Nurkovic of Kaizer Chiefs challenged by Bonginkosi Makume of Baroka during the Absa Premiership match between Baroka FC and Kaizer Chiefs at Bidvest Stadium on September 05, 2020 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Samir Nurkovic of Kaizer Chiefs challenged by Bonginkosi Makume of Baroka during the Absa Premiership match between Baroka FC and Kaizer Chiefs at Bidvest Stadium on September 05, 2020 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Image: Muzi Ntombela/Gallo Images/BackpagePix

Kaizer Chiefs had the lead‚ and the championship‚ but bottled it‚ and the flatness of their response after conceding an equaliser raises questions that there was more to it than just the on-field performance in Saturday’s 1-1 Absa Premiership draw against Baroka FC.

Khama Billiat gave a Chiefs who were dominant in the first half hope of the title scoring in the 39th minute at Bidvest Stadium. Manual Kambala’s 59th-minute equaliser derailed Amakhosi’s concentration to an alarming extent‚ earned Baroka third-last place and survival from the playoffs‚ and broke Chiefs supporters’ hearts.

That Chiefs could not manage more in a flat second half pressing for an historic title in their 50th anniversary season raises questions over how much they wanted it‚ and how much they would run themselves to the ground for coach Ernst Middendorp.

The erratic-natured coach’s split personality was written all over Saturday’s performance. Middendorp’s work in 2019-20 steering a team who finished ninth in 2018-19 to leading almost all of this bizarre Covid-19 season has to be credited. He is not the palooka he has often been unfairly labelled as.

But‚ if indeed‚ as reports from within Naturena have indicated‚ he fought with senior players in the crucial death part of the season‚ then to what extent did the coach’s counterproductive aggressive personality play a part in undoing all that earlier hard work? Only the post-mortems will tell.

In the end‚ Mamelodi Sundowns‚ 3-0 winners over Black Leopards at Dobsonville Stadium‚ might have felt they were handed their defence of their title more than having to kill themselves fighting for it.

Chiefs had a job to do‚ and came out applying their simple‚ direct tactics highly effectively‚ earning a goal’s lead by the break with efficiency. They had all the chances controlling the opening 45 minutes.

As influential as Daniel Akpeyi was in goal in the first half of the season‚ Chiefs have missed Itumeleng Khune’s calming influence – especially in the bubble – and of course that weapon from the back of the Bafana Bafana keeper’s distribution.

A classic Khune lob into the area found Nurkovic to get up and chest down for Billiat‚ who feinted at a shot and dragged the ball wide past young left-back Bonginkosi Makume‚ then struck low past Baroka keeper Elvis Chipezeze.

Amakhosi needed an as well-applied plan to avoid the nerviness they have displayed defending a lead in the bubble. They tried to come out consolidating from the break‚ and containing the inevitable spike in intensity from Baroka.

But Chiefs conceded softly. Gerald Phiri Junior’s free-kick sent in high from deep on the right should have been dealt with‚ but chunky Mozambican midfielder Kambala got between his markers and headed past Khune.

Middendorp’s response had panic written all over it. His XI had looked solid‚ and only made one real error. To change the complexion of it with a 69th-minute triple substitution seemed unwise and an over-correction.

After Dumisani Zuma‚ Lazarous Kambole and Anthony Akumu replaced Bernard Parker‚ Willard Katsande and Moleko‚ Chiefs lost shape. A team that should have been throwing themselves forward with ferocity allowed their heads to drop.

Fourteen tooth-grinding minutes dragged by before Chiefs entered Baroka’s area again with purpose‚ and then not even with a half-chance. With their inability to come up with a winner, Amakhosi kissed the title of a 2019-20 Premiership season they led for almost the entire campaign goodbye.

PODCAST | Fan face-off part two: Chiefs vs Sundowns

X