Stuart Baxter yesterday reaped the first reward of Kaizer Chiefs’ sterling start to the season, but warned his focus remains firmly on the bigger prize – the championship.
Baxter was awarded the Absa Premiership Coach-of-the-Quarter after Amakhosi topped the standings for the first eight matches of the season, a feat which had already won them R1,5-million two weeks ago.
Bernard Parker was named the best player for that period, pocketing R15 000 just like his coach, but Baxter maintained the prizes did not hold not much relevance as his main aim is to help Chiefs annex their first league championship for seven years.
“In terms of the bigger picture, these awards perhaps don’t mean much. But we can still take heart from the fact that players are being recognised for doing well. We can take confidence from the fact that we are on the right track. If we continue in this manner, we surely will be up there among the contenders at the end of the season,” Baxter said.
Chiefs’ title credentials will come under further examination tonight, when they host Moroka Swallows (Soccer City, 7.30pm). Amakhosi are the only unbeaten side in the Premiership and lead the standings by four points, with the best scoring record (21 goals) and the best defence (five goals conceded).
In Swallows, Baxter acknowledged they face one of the more unpredictable sides around. “That’s a big challenge for us, isn’t it?” the Chiefs coach said. “But we will plan for the more consistent Swallows, the one that can beat anyone on their day. We know Swallows have a lot of potential. If they play to that potential it will be a very difficult game. It’s natural that when you’re on top, everybody wants to beat you, and Swallows will be no different.”
The Birds are seventh in the standings, and have failed to win any of their past three games which included home ties against Chippa United and Black Leopards.
But Baxter says Zeca Marques’s team will be more motivated as they come up against another Soweto giant, having embarrassed Orlando Pirates 3-0 a few months ago. “It’s a derby, and Swallows will find it inspiring, playing against us at Soccer City,” Baxter said.
Apart from going into tonight’s game with their unbeaten record still intact, Chiefs will be buoyed by the fact that they’ve had a superior record over Swallows, who’ve suffered four successive league defeats to Amakhosi in the last two seasons.
Chiefs have won seven of their 10 league games but Baxter reckons there’s still room for improvement. “We need to be more consistent. It’s a mental issue. There are certain games where we create lots of chances in the first half, and then we become apprehensive in the second half. We have to improve on that front and seek to more clinical all the time.”
Meanwhile, Parker attributed his success in the first quarter to Baxter giving him proper guidance. “Not a lot has changed in my game from last season – it’s just that this time I’m scoring,” said Parker, whose seven goals have put him top of the scorers’ chart.
“The coach has had a word with me about what role I should play. I now know how to position myself and get into scoring positions.”
Parker, though, has not managed to add to his tally since scoring a brace against Bidvest Wits on September 24.
Tonight: Bidvest Wits v Ajax, Bidvest Stadium; Chiefs v Swallows, Soccer City; Maritzburg v SuperSport, Harry Gwala; Chippa v Platinum Stars, Athlone
Tomorrow: Leopards v Pirates, Peter Mokaba Stadium; Arrows v Celtic, King Zwelithini Stadium; FS Stars v Tuks, Charles Mopeli Stadium; Sundowns v AmaZulu, Lucas Moripe Stadium
P W D L F A Pts
Chiefs. 10 7 3 0 21 5 24
Pirates 10 6 2 2 12 7 20
Platinum 10 6 1 3 15 10 19
M’burg 10 5 4 1 13 8 19
Tuks .10 4 4 2 14 10 16
Wits 10 4 3 3 12 11 15
Swallows 10 4 2 4 16 14 14
Celtic 10 4 1 5 11 13 13
FS Stars 10 3 4 3 8 10 13
Leopards 10 2 6 2 14 14 12
S’Sport 10 1 8 1 11 9 11
Arrows 10 2 3 5 5 9 9
Ajax 10 2 2 6 10 17 8
AmaZulu .10 2 2 6 4 16 8
Chippa 0 1 4 5 7 13 7
S’downs 10 1 3 6 5 12 6