Johannesburg – Stuart Baxter is undecided on who will replace Itumeleng Khune in Kaizer Chiefs’ crucial Absa Premiership tie against Platinum Stars, the Briton insisting on Thursday he had never said Brilliant Khuzwayo would take over the gloves.
Chiefs skipper Khune is suspended for the match in Polokwane (Peter Mokaba Stadium, 3pm) and, after initially declaring Khuzwayo would be handed his first start in Amakhosi colours, Baxter was singing a different tune on Thursday.
“When did I say (Khuzwayo) would definitely play? You must have smoked something,” the Chiefs coach said, perhaps having forgotten that following his team’s victory over Moroka Swallows last week, he told a post-match press conference – which was recorded – that the Umlazi-born ‘keeper would replace Khune. “I never said that. I would never put that kind of pressure on him (Khuzwayo).”
Baxter insisted Khuzwayo stands the same chance of being picked as the other two reserve goalkeepers – Arthur Baartman and Reyaad Pieterse. “I had a conversation with Raina (Dinkelacker, the goalkeeper trainer) immediately after the Swallows game and we agreed that we’ll use this week to see how people react. At this moment all three ‘keepers have an equal chance of being picked.”
Whoever Baxter picks, however, faces a mammoth task against a Stars side who are the only team to beat Chiefs in the Premiership this season.
When Khune was missing for a cup game against Bidvest Wits last October, Baxter turned to Baartman, but the veteran did not cover himself in glory as he let in three goals. Khuzwayo, 23, and Pieterse, 21, are yet to play an official game, which perhaps explains Baxter’s indecision.
While acknowledging Khune’s absence as a “big blow”, Baxter hopes his players draw inspiration from the fact that they lost to Stars in the first game, and knowledge that victory would virtually seal the championship.
“The desire and motivation will be high for this match. The players know what happened in the first game, but I don’t want revenge to be at the front on their minds. We have to take the three points and move on because there’s a bigger picture.”
The ‘bigger picture’, of course, is the championship, which Chiefs could seal on Sunday if they win, provided Orlando Pirates lose to Bidvest Wits on Saturday.
But Baxter stressed Sunday’s match is not the title decider it’s been made up to be. “It’s not the end-all of everything. We will approach the game knowing the title race could go down to the wire.”
The Chiefs coach also had a dig at Stars trainer Cavin Johnson, who declared this week that according to him, Amakhosi are champions already. “He’s just playing games,” Baxter said of his Stars counterpart. “I think he’ll say whatever he wants to remove the pressure and expectations from his team. But we have been top from the first game, so our players won’t be affected by this tactic. They are used to the pressure of being in this position for so long.
“The truth is Platinum Stars know this is their best chance. They have to win to still be in it (title race). Defeat against us would be a massive blow to them, and they would be massively disappointed. I don’t think my players buy that thing about having already won the title.”
Elsewhere, Pirates will be looking for their first Premiership win since February 20, when they take on Wits on Saturday (Mbombela Stadium, 6pm).
Roger de Sa’s team have drawn all six of their past league games to drop to third in the standings. Good news for Bucs is that key midfielder Oupa Manyisa resumed training this week and should be available for selection. – The Star
Friday: Maritzburg v Swallows, Harry Gwala Stadium, 8pm
Saturday: Leopards v Tuks, Peter Mokaba Stadium, 3pm; FS Stars v AmaZulu, Goble Park, 3pm; Wits v Pirates, Mbombela, 6pm; Sundowns v Celtic, Pilditch, 8.15pm; Chippa v Ajax, Phillipi
Sunday: Chiefs v P Stars, Peter Mokaba Stadium, 3pm; Arrows v SuperSport, Princess Magogo Stadium, 3pm
P W D L F A Pts
Chiefs 26 15 10 1 46 16 55
Platinum 26 15 4 7 42 25 49
Pirates 25 12 10 3 32 17 46
Wits 26 9 10 7 27 27 37
SuperSport 25 7 15 3 27 20 36
Maritzburg 26 8 11 7 27 25 35
Free State 26 8 10 8 24 25 34
Celtic 26 9 7 10 26 29 34
Pretoria 26 6 15 5 27 24 33
Swallows 26 9 5 12 35 39 32
Sundowns 25 6 11 8 21 21 29
AmaZulu 26 6 11 9 15 28 29
Arrows 26 7 7 12 25 30 28
Leopards 25 5 8 12 28 44 23
Ajax 26 5 8 13 26 43 23
Chippa 26 4 8 14 22 37 20