Even a boxing match couldn’t add punch to yesterday’s Soweto derby, a pleasant summer afternoon let down by a rather spark-less stalemate.
The mass brawl that ensued midway through the second half spoke of the tensions that always run high on days like this. And yet for all the fight there wasn’t even close to enough flair to make this rewarding viewing.
Pirates got a splendid enough goal from Kermit Erasmus, but then stopped playing for much of the rest of the game. Chiefs, meanwhile, had a story of redemption to tell, as Kingston Nkhatha fought off being booed by his own fans to net an (albeit offside) equaliser. But they, too, were off their game, in a poor advert for the Absa Premiership, added to by some lamentable officiating.
Nkhatha’s goal was palpably offside, and referee Victor Hlungwani’s decision not to at least book players for the second half ructions was bizarre, to say the least.
It was a bit of a shame for a game that had promised much, with Pirates coming off the back of their march to the final of the Champions League, and a 4-0 bludgeoning of Golden Arrows in midweek; and league title holders Chiefs out to stop the Buccaneers in their tracks, and looking to bite back after defeat to Pirates in the MTN8 semi-finals.
In the first half, however, Chiefs were not helped by their own supporters. Stuart Baxter chose Nkhatha to replace his injured compatriot Knowledge Musona, and he spent much of the first half as the pantomime villain for Amakhosi fans inside FNB Stadium. Itumeleng Khune had spoken out in the week about Amakhosi fans booing Nkhatha, but this appeared to have fallen on deaf ears, pretty much from the moment he lost an early challenge to Rooi Mahamutsa, accompanied by the usual “substitution” arm-circling.
Once Pirates scored, the abuse got worse for Nkhatha, and he seemed affected, losing his footing on several occasions. To his credit, Nkhatha kept on working, and his cross almost sent in Siphiwe Tshabalala. And four minutes before the break, he turned the boos to cheers, turning in Tshabalala’s shot from close range.
If this was a nice twist to the tale for Nkhatha, the awarding of the goal was totally wrong, the Zimbabwean in an offside position, and Pirates with every right to feel aggrieved.
The Buccaneers had started the game in lively fashion, taking the lead as early as the 10th minute. Some lovely interplay between Daine Klate and Thabo Matlaba saw the latter sprint clear down the left, and provide a cross that Erasmus steered in superbly on the volley.
Matlaba had run into acres of space behind Chiefs right back Siboniso Gaxa, and Klate did the same in the 20th minute, from a lovely pass from Erasmus, but sliced his shot wide at the near post.
Khethowakhe Masuku, kept in the side after an excellent midweek performance against Golden Arrows, then set up Erasmus with another chance, but this time he blazed over.
Chiefs got better as the half progressed, Tshabalala and Reneilwe Letsholonyane both seeing efforts fly just wide of Senzo Meyiwa’s goal.
All these opportunities don’t really tell the whole story of the half, however, a scrappy affair, with nerves perhaps getting the better of the players.
The momentum at half-time, however, was with Chiefs, and seven minutes into the second half, they, and Nkhatha, almost took the lead, his rocket of a shot pushed away by Meyiwa.
Pirates went straight up the other end and Lennox Bacela, who mostly struggled to make an impact, curled a decent effort that Khune pushed over the bar.
Willard Katsande was then lucky to get away without a red card after going in late on Andile Jali, having already been booked earlier in the game. Referee Victor Hlungwani didn’t even give a foul.
The game got even more unsavoury not long after, as Bernard Parker went to ground just outside the Pirates area, and both teams piled into what developed into a mass brawl. Once it was resolved, amazingly, no cards were issued.
The game lulled a little after the fight, and then picked up again as substitute Tlou Segolela sped down the right, and crossed for another replacement, Sifiso Myeni, but his shot was wayward. - Sunday Independent