All of a sudden, Kaizer Chiefs have far less room to manoeuvre. Mamelodi Sundowns have slowly squeezed the gap to Amakhosi at the summit of the Absa Premiership and, after breaking the Chiefs fortress at FNB Stadium on Saturday night, the Brazilians have turned the title race into a nail-biter.
Once Teko Modise’s hopeful punt had somehow squirmed its way past Itumeleng Khune with around 15 minutes left on the clock, to send a healthy yellow section of the country’s grandest stadium into joyful celebration, Pitso Mosimane still talked of being “three points behind” Stuart Baxter’s Chiefs.
Those, however, are hypothetical numbers, with Amakhosi still holding a game in hand on the Brazilians. The actual margin is more taut, with Chiefs currently leading Sundowns on goal difference, by just one goal.
“I am sure you guys are highly delighted that you have got even more drama to look forward to,” said Baxter afterwards, addressing the media, though he may as well have been speaking to any neutral looking for a title showdown.
For Baxter, the result was obviously less pleasing, though Chiefs were more than a little unfortunate, having dominated much of the game. It was, strangely, almost the exact opposite of the reverse fixture at Loftus earlier this year, when Chiefs scored a strange goal, via an awkward bounce, and Sundowns were left to rue missed opportunities.
“The two games with Sundowns have taught us that goals win games,” said Baxter.
“I thought in the first 20 minutes they had us on the back foot, Sundowns were moving the ball quickly and threatening down the flanks. Once we got a hold of that the game evened out, then we took over. It was surprising to have them on the back foot without scoring.
“Towards the end of the game, they got a bit of a freak goal … it’s the name of the game. The boys worked hard and knocked Sundowns out of their rhythm. We had the game where we wanted but we didn’t take our chances. It is no good bitching, we must sharpen our knives, lick our wounds and get back to our job. We congratulate our opponents on the three points and let’s run the rest of the season out.”
Mosimane acknowledged that Sundowns had been a little fortunate on the day, pointing to a first-half injury to left-back Mzikayise Mashaba that saw them deprived of their most potent attacking threat.
Mashaba attacked the right side of the Chiefs defence with brilliant vim early on, but once he went off injured, Amakhosi took control of the game.
“It was a big profile game, so it was important for us, especially (with that happened) when we played at Loftus against Chiefs. We played much better in that game than in this one, especially in the second half,” said Mosimane.
“In the first half (here), we did much better than in the second, unfortunately we lost the person on our strongest side, on the left, Mashaba, he was key … and playing well.
“Once we lost Mashaba, Shabba (Siphiwe Tshabalala) had a free role and started to dictate the game. It was important for us to close Shabba down but he got space and did what he was good at.”
A Tshabalala corner at the start of the second half was the source of Chiefs’ best chance of the game, Morgan Gould and Kingston Nkhatha both hitting the bar, with Sundowns somehow clearing their lines.
The Gould effort, scrambled away by Anthony Laffor, could have done with some goalline technology, but the match officials decided the ball had not crossed the line.
Sundowns capitalised, as Modise sent a long ball into the Chiefs area, and it evaded everyone, bouncing in front of Khune, and sneaking past him into the far corner of the net.
Mosimane, meanwhile, did his best to play down Sundowns’ title rejuvenation.
“I would rather be on the other side than where I am, we are still chasing,” he said.
“It gives you guys some excitement, some hype, but it is only three points.”
It was, however, three crucial points, and Sundowns will be top if they beat Bloemfontein Celtic on Wednesday evening and Chiefs fail to take down MP Black Aces.
Amakhosi will face Aces with Baxter’s home record now broken – Chiefs had not previously lost a league game at home under their coach since he joined the club in 2012.
“To me, it doesn’t mean that much, I am more upset about losing three points … if my ego is the most damaged thing tonight something is hugely wrong.
“I just feel you want to win every game.” - The Star