Johannesburg – This will not find a way into a list of the best Soweto derbies, but both Roger De Sa and Stuart Baxter could claim moral victory from a scrappy affair that could have gone either way but ended all square.
Kaizer Chiefs’ Baxter, while delighted that his team maintained a three-point lead at the top of the Absa Premiership standings over their bitterest rivals, was unimpressed about a generally poor display, with Amakhosi having to rescue a point through Lehlohonolo Majoro’s equaliser.
Baxter said that, for some reason, Chiefs’ players were “a bit tense”, although their line-up was not short of experience, with even derby debutants such as Tsepo Masilela, Mulomowandau Mathoho and Siboniso Gaxa all armed with international caps.
“I’ve never seen my players so tense. They made too many mistakes in the first half, giving the ball away. We didn’t have any real cohesive play. But at least in the second half we improved. The crowd had a wonderful time, but the quality of play could have been better,” Baxter said.
Chiefs’ more experienced players, such as Josta Dladla and Reneilwe Letsholonyane, simply didn’t pitch, with Dladla taken off at half-time, while Pirates enjoyed midfield dominance as Andile Jali and Oupa Manyisa overwhelmed their opponents.
But Pirates, too, seemed to fade in the second half after a commanding display in the opening period, during which Collins Mbesuma handed them the lead. “It was not a fantastic game,” confessed De Sa, the Buccaneers’ coach who, like Baxter, was involved in his first official derby.
“We played on the back foot in the second half. I hope my players have learnt that in games like this you don’t take your foot off the pedal. A 1-1 scoreline is probably fair, but we made a lot of errors.”
Those errors, from both sides, included possession being given away cheaply, poor decision-making and poor finishing.
After Majoro pulled Chiefs level, Pirates had a great chance to retake the lead but Daine Klate, having found himself with just Itumeleng Khune to beat, attempted to offload to substitute Benni McCarthy and the chance was lost.
Chiefs, too, had a chance to win it at the very end when Siphiwe Tshabalala surged through on the right, but his pass eluded Kingston Nkhatha.
As much as players made mistakes on the field, Baxter and De Sa also made questionable decisions. De Sa went into the game with Mbesuma as his lone striker, packing the midfield with five men. When the Zambian came off, he was replaced by McCarthy, which was strange given that at the time, with the game tied 1-1, perhaps it would have been more sensible to go with two strikers.
Baxter, too, withdrew Majoro just after he had scored his eighth goal of the campaign, in spite of the striker having grown in confidence and his speed troubling the Bucs defence. “Majoro was getting tired,” Baxter explained. “I needed Kingston [Nkhatha] because of his strength, that’s why I took [Majoro] off.”
Chiefs need to win only one of their remaining two games of the year to be assured of going into the long festive season break as log leaders, having held that position since the opening day in August.
Amakhosi face the University of Pretoria this Saturday, but by the time they play, Pirates could well have caught up with them in terms of points, with Bucs travelling to Maritzburg United on Friday.
While Baxter sees the upcoming seven-week break in December/January as a major distraction, De Sa welcomed it. “The African Nations Cup break will give me a chance to have a bit of pre-season with the team. We are traditionally stronger in the second round,” said the Pirates coach. – The Star