Steve Komphela’s Free State Stars will be out to put another dent in Kaizer Chiefs’ title ambitions this evening as the Amakhosi host the first game at FNB Stadium after the Africa Cup of Nations final.
With Orlando Pirates on continental duty, Chiefs will go back to the top with just a point against Stars, having been knocked off their perch in midweek for the first time since September 19.
After a goalless draw with Sundowns on Tuesday, Stuart Baxter’s side could really do with all three points to get some momentum going in the new year, having set a searing pre-Christmas pace at the head of the pack.
It will not be easy against Komphela’s Stars, who are having another excellent season under their wily mentor.
Victory over Chippa United in midweek cemented Stars’ grip on fourth place, just eight points behind the Amakhosi. New signing Danny Venter chipped in with two goals against Chippa, showing signs that Stars might just cure their problems in front of goal in the second half of the season.
At the back, meanwhile, Ea Lla Koto boast the league’s third best defensive record, behind only Chiefs and Pirates.
The quality of the game could yet depend on the FNB Stadium pitch, not in the best condition for the Nations Cup final. If Chiefs are prevented from playing their fluid passing game, that could play into the hands of Stars, who were the first side to take points off Chiefs this season, with a goalless draw at the Charles Mopeli Stadium on September 1.
Elsewhere today, Clive Barker’s Bidvest Wits will look to continue their excellent start under their new coach as they travel to Mangaung to face Bloemfontein Celtic.
The Students opened up the Barker-era with a 2-0 win at Black Leopards on Tuesday night, in the process leapfrogging Celtic into seventh place, Phunya Sele Sele going down 2-0 at Platinum Stars the following evening.
Clinton Larsen’s side are not having the best of seasons, but remain a difficult proposition on home soil, winning five of the eight league games thus far on their own patch this campaign.
Speaking of Platinum Stars, the season’s surprise package kept hot on the heels of Chiefs and Pirates with that win over Celtic, Namibian striker Henrico Botes’ fine season continuing with the opening goal.
And Cavan Johnson’s side will fancy their chances of another home win against Ajax Cape Town this afternoon.
The Urban Warriors thrashed Platinum Stars 4-1 at home at the end of August, but since then it is Dikwena who have flourished this season, while Ajax languish third from bottom of the table.
After taking only four points from their opening five league games, Stars have gone on a staggering run that has seen them pick up 30 points out of a possible 36. In the same period, Ajax have managed just 12 points from 12 games.
Johnson’s side have also turned Phokeng into a bit of fortress this season, winning seven of the eight league games they have played there this campaign, their only defeat coming at home to Pirates on September 15. - Saturday Star