Johannesburg – Kaizer Chiefs’ lead at the top of the Absa Premiership could shrink to just a point by the time they kick off against Moroka Swallows on Saturday (Dobsonville Stadium, 6pm), yet Stuart Baxter still remains unconcerned.
While his captain, Itumeleng Khune, conceded they were feeling the pressure from second-placed Platinum Stars, who are expected to close in on Amakhosi with victory over Chippa United, Baxter continued to put on a brave face in spite of the reality that unfancied Stars could push Chiefs to the limits in the championship race.
As defending champions Orlando Pirates appear to have faded away, Stars have emerged as Chiefs’ strongest challengers for the title, having won against Bidvest Wits in midweek to move within four points of the leaders. Dikwena are also the only team to beat Chiefs in the league thus far this season, making next week’s second round clash between the sides all the more crucial.
But first, both sides face tricky assignments on Saturday, although Stars would back themselves to win against bottom side Chippa, who ended a run of six successive defeats by beating Swallows in midweek. Chiefs, too, will head into their Soweto Derby against the Birds full of confidence, hence Baxter could not be bothered about what happens in Phokeng, where Stars will engage Chippa three hours earlier.
“I’m not one to read too much into situations of other teams because that can create turmoil,” Baxter said when asked if he would want to go into his team’s match against Swallows knowing the outcome of the Stars game.
“We have to focus on improving our own performance. We need not panic because of what other teams are doing. Recently I was asked in a post-match interview if I was happy Pirates had drawn, and I was not even aware of the outcome of their match. That’s the attitude we need. As long as we play well, I’m happy, even if we draw.”
But if Stars win, a draw could leave Chiefs in a pickle ahead of their clash with Dikwena next weekend, which perhaps explains why Khune conceded pressure was mounting.
“The last few games will not be easy. Stars are putting us under pressure, but we have to focus on ourselves,” the Chiefs skipper said.
Chiefs will be buoyed by the fact that they have had great success against Swallows of late, having beaten them in five successive league games dating back to 2009/10.
Swallows’ cause will also not be helped by their surprise defeat to Chippa, which their coach Zeca Marques termed “bruising” after some of his players returned from Cape Town with injuries. “It was a real battle,” Marques said of Wednesday’s 2-1 loss. “It was the first time that I saw four, five of my players complain about being kicked around. They were bruised.”
He reported injuries to the likes of Sibusiso Khumalo, Rudi Isaacs and Larry Cohen, but still promised Chiefs a tough fight tomorrow. “We will play as if we are fighting for the title. Maybe one of the reasons why we lost to Chippa was that the players were already thinking about the Chiefs game. They really are looking forward to it.”
Baxter, meanwhile, confirmed defender Erick Mathoho had resumed full training and should be available for selection. But his biggest concern is to keep his team from being drawn into premature celebrations, not least with Stars breathing heavily behind them.
“I’ve seen young players getting ahead of themselves, but I’m counting on my experienced players to avoid that. I would be surprised if men like Itu (Khune) started talking about the bonus they’d get for winning the league, when there’s still so much to do,” Baxter said. – The Star
Tomorrow: Tuks v FS Stars, Tuks Stadium, 3pm; P Stars v Chippa, Royal Bafokeng, 3pm; Swallows v Chiefs, Dobsonville, 6pm; Ajax v Wits, Cape Town Stadium, 8.15pm
Sunday: AmaZulu v Sundowns, Moses Mabhida Stadium, 3pm; Celtic v Arrows, Free State Stadium, 3pm
P W D L F A Pts
Chiefs 25 14 10 1 43 15 52
P Stars 25 15 3 7 41 24 48
Pirates 25 12 10 3 32 17 46
SuperSport 24 7 14 3 27 20 35
Maritzburg 25 8 10 7 27 25 34
Wits 25 8 10 7 25 27 34
FS Stars 25 8 9 8 23 24 33
Tuks 25 6 14 5 26 23 32
Swallows 25 9 5 11 34 36 32
Celtic 25 8 7 10 25 29 31
Sundowns 24 6 10 8 21 21 28
Arrows 25 7 7 11 25 29 28
AmaZulu 25 6 10 9 15 28 28
Ajax 25 5 8 12 26 41 23
Leopards 25 5 8 12 28 44 20
Chippa 25 4 7 14 21 36 19