Johannesburg – Stuart Baxter and Roger de Sa will make their Soweto derby coaching debuts on Saturday afternoon, at the end of a week sure to mark their sternest tests yet at the helm of Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates respectively.
Baxter and De Sa have so far silenced any doubters, and enjoyed fine starts to their tenures, particularly in the Absa Premiership.
Kaizer Motaung’s decision to give Baxter the Amakhosi job at the start of the season certainly raised a few eyebrows, the Scot’s last stint in South Africa seeing mixed success with Bafana Bafana.
But after a horrendous start, a thrashing by Sundowns in the MTN8 quarterfinal, Baxter has put together a side that Amakhosi fans appear to have warmed to, combining defensive steel with plenty of attacking verve. Twenty-four goals in 12 league games is a tremendous tally, with Baxter taking credit for restoring the confidence of Bernard Parker, while impressive contributions have also come from Lehlohonolo Majoro and new signing Kingston Nkhatha.
Chiefs have also been solid at the back, though injuries to Morgan Gould, Siboniso Gaxa and Eric Matoho have disrupted their progress.
The absence of Gould and Matoho seemed particularly noticeable in Chiefs’ last match, as they fell to a first league defeat of the season at Platinum Stars. Tsepo Masilela also appeared some way short of full fitness at left back, in his first start for the club.
Chiefs remain a point clear of Pirates at the top, but Baxter has plenty to ponder in a week that sees them host Ajax Cape Town this evening before the derby against the Buccaneers on Saturday. The Amakhosi and the Buccaneers must both overcome the distraction that the derby provides, with poor results so often the norm leading up to the Soweto showdown.
Last season Chiefs lost 2-1 to Ajax in Cape Town ahead of the first round derby, though they went on to beat Pirates 2-1 at Soccer City. This time Chiefs have home advantage ahead of the derby, taking the Urban Warriors to Polokwane. Ajax have struggled this season, and languish fifth from bottom of the table, though Jan Pruijn’s side will have been boosted by their Cape Town derby victory over Chippa United in their last league game.
It is to Chippa that Orlando Pirates go on Wednesday evening, Roger de Sa’s side looking to pick up a fifth straight league win. De Sa seemed a slightly odd appointment by chairman Irvin Khoza when he was handed the job in September, but under him the Buccaneers have lost just twice, both times to Bloemfontein Celtic in Mangaung, in both league and cup.
Almost always solid at the back, Pirates are starting to find some fizz in attack too, with 13 goals in their last six league games, having managed just five in their first six. Sifiso Myeni has been in inspired form under his former boss, while Zambian Collins Mbesuma has also rolled back the years with some fantastic strikes recently for club and country.
Mbesuma’s form has meant that Pirates have not overly missed the crocked Benni McCarthy, though the man who scored twice in the last Soweto derby could yet return this week from his hamstring injury.
In derby terms, Pirates do have a slight disadvantage in terms of playing their previous game a day later than Chiefs, and away from home. But the Buccaneers’ squad depth, and the sheer magnitude of the occasion, ought to be enough to ensure that there are no tired legs come Saturday.
There, in front of 90 000 screaming fans at FNB Stadium, De Sa and Baxter will stand on the touchline and take in the derby heat. If they can emerge from this week with their cool demeanours intact, and results going their way, the title momentum may well have found its decisive shift. – The Star