Kaizer Chiefs go into Saturday’s Nedbank Cup final against SuperSport United with the kind of form that has Stuart Baxter concerned, even after his men were crowned Premiership champions at the weekend.
Baxter has seen Amakhosi win just one of their past seven league games to, as he put it, “somehow get over the finishing line”, but to complete a rare double, they will have to improve vastly against a SuperSport side they failed to beat in their race to league glory.
But Baxter has what sounded like valid excuses for Chiefs’ loss to Tuks at the weekend. He had rested several players – Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Tefu Mash-amaite, Tsepo Masilela and Lehlohonolo Majoro – and all should return to the line-up for this weekend’s season-ending cup final at Moses Mabhida Stadium (3pm).
“I think that we missed Mashamaite in our central defence. Tsepo’s experience was missed. Yeye’s (Letsholonyane) energy was missed. Major’s movement up front was missed. All these players who were rested will make a big difference in the final,” the Chiefs coach said.
But in spite of having those players in the latter stages of the season, Chiefs managed to beat only Moroka Swallows in recent games as they endured a tense finish, which suggests their return won’t necessarily mean they have smooth-sailing against Gavin Hunt’s obdurate side as they want to avoid a barren season.
Last weekend’s loss to Tuks had Baxter confessing the celebrations in Mbombela were bitter-sweet, and he challenged his men to end on a high this week. “I’m a bad loser,” said the Chiefs coach. “That’s why you didn’t see me celebrating much because I didn’t like the result. I’m not a 100per cent elated. But a poor performance should not detract from what the players have put in the whole year.”
He acknowledged the latter part of the season has been difficult, with Chiefs carrying a burden of expectations from their fans. “We haven’t played well in the last few games simply because of expectations and the pressure they brought on the players. I’m saying this for the first time, and it’s the truth. The pressure on the players was immense, that’s why you saw we were sporadically good. Somehow though, in spite of this, we dragged ourselves over the finishing line.”
With the giant Premiership trophy safely in Naturena now, Baxter expects his team to be more relaxed on Saturday, but will urge them to give it their all. “This cup final is very important to us. We will be doing whatever it takes to complete the double. We have to give a performance that we can be proud of. We don’t want one fraught with nerves.”
Baxter expects Siphiwe Tshabalala, who hobbled off in the closing stages at Mbombela, to be fit for Saturday’s final. “He should be okay. Sometimes Shabba likes being precious, but I’m sure he’s fine.”
It’s been three years since Chiefs won a domestic knockout cup and in SuperSport they face a formidable side who are the defending champions of the Nedbank Cup. United, having reached their second final this season, have little to lose as they have already qualified for the African Confederation Cup by virtue of facing league champions Chiefs, who will register for the Champions League. - The Star