JOHANNESBURG – Ernst Middendorp is convinced if his Kaizer Chiefs team was “fresh” on Saturday night, they’d have qualified for the group stage of the Caf Confederation Cup.
Chiefs bounced out of the continental competition after a 5-2 defeat on aggregate to Zesco United in the qualifiers.
It was a tough week at the office for Amakhosi as the 2-1 home loss in the return leg was their third match in six days – having previously lost to the Zambian giants last Sunday, and unconvincingly beaten AmaZulu in the league midweek.
Chiefs needed at least two goals and a clean-sheet to proceed.
However, a costly mistake from Hendrick Ekstein resulted to them falling behind early on, while in the second half, Siphosakhe Ntiya-Ntiya failed to produce a sound clearance as Zesco capitalised and scored to proceed to the group stage.
“(Prior) to our return game, three days before, we had to play a tough team in Durban and with travelling included, I’d say the performances in the two games were not the same,” Middendorp said.
“If we take Ekstein against Bidvest Wits and Wednesday, he had about 2 300m in transition sprint performance, and 900m tonight, but we’ll still get the data.
“A young player like Ntiya was excellent in both those games. It’s not excuses, but it’s to understand why certain players sometimes do things that they haven’t done before.”
Taking a leaf out of Pitso Mosimane’s book about the demands of continental football, Middendorp believes that those costly errors might have been avoided if the PSL scheduled league fixtures coherently to give teams participating in continental football enough time to prepare for the African Safari.
But Chiefs problems run deeper than that, and Middendorp’s outcry at the PSL organisers is due to their own difficulty of dealing with the congested fixtures.
The biggest issue is losing key players such as Itumeleng Khune, Ramahlwe Mphahlele, Philani Zulu, Lebogang Manyama, Eric Mathoho and Joseph Molangoane to long-term injuries.
Furthermore, these trying times in their medical room have shown the Glamour Boys’ defensive loopholes as they’ve now conceded nine goals in just five matches – while keeping one clean-sheet.
“We had mistakes in the first and second half, but if both players had an entire week to prepare, they wouldn’t have made the mistakes,” Middendorp said.
“Of course, it’s a concern. I can definitely not be happy (about conceding), there’s no doubt about it.
“But in the end, I am working with human beings and have to be realistic. I cannot be going with the bulldozer through the dressing room, knowing how we have performed to get closer to the league in order to have a better position.”
Middendorp is still unsure about whether there’ll be additions to the squad in the ongoing transfer window.
“I can’t answer this seriously,” Middendorp said when he was asked whether he had a solution to Chiefs’ piling workload.
“I can only refer to a situation when I started on the seventh of December to now.”