JOHANNESBURG – Kaizer Chiefs had all the possession despite going a man down in the first half.
But Bidvest Wits, eventual 1-0 winners of this Telkom Knockout semi-final, had defender Buhle Mkhwanazi, who was making his first start for the club since May.
Handed the captain’s armband on the day in the absence of Thulani Hlatshwayo, Mkhwanazi proved just how important he could be in relaunching Wits’ season, which has been quite awful so far – just four victories in open play from 14 games prior to this cup tie.
Just seconds after Chiefs had seen Wiseman Meyiwa sent off for a reckless stamp on Daine Klate, Mkhwanazi knocked down a long ball from the resulting free kick to find striker James Keene, who headed home past goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune.
It’s the kind of commitment to surge forward and create something out of nothing that Wits have lacked since the start of their Premiership title defence.
With Hlatshwayo missing his central defence partner, coach Gavin Hunt has chopped and changed the back four, and paid for it with poor results.
The permanent skipper should be back soon from a toe injury he picked up in the quarter-final win over Baroka FC at this venue about three weeks ago, and that – Hunt will have his fingers crossed – could be a turning point.
Wits still have some way to go, however, in other departments on the pitch. Chiefs were the better side, even with a numerical disadvantage here.
They too lack the much-needed firepower to turn the game on its head.
On a day when their forwards are clinical, Mkhwanazi and his teammates would have had their hands full. But they fluffed chances, and the countless offside calls took the pressure off.
It’s coach Steve Komphela who will again have to shoulder the blame as Amakhosi miss out on yet another cup competition.
The coach, in the final year of his three-year deal as Chiefs mentor, is still searching for that elusive piece of silverware that’s made the Glamour Boys look average compared to the cup kings they were known as over the years.
And Komphela had set up his approach to make room for a pressing game and an aggressive style of play by leaving out Pule Ekstein, who has been impressive in their five-game unbeaten run in all competitions, for Meyiwa, who got sent off when only 30 minutes had been played.
His counterpart Hunt countered that same formation, using Bokang Tlhone and Reeve Frosler as wing-backs and partnering Mkhwanazi alongside Sifiso Hlanti and Phumlani Ntshangase in a three-man central defence.
It could have backfired had Chiefs held on to all their players throughout the match, but he will take credit for also setting up his stalls in such a way that put them on the front foot.
Wits now march on to the final, where they will meet either Polokwane City or Bloemfontein Celtic next month.