Johannesburg – Not in a long time have Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs been separated by the narrowest of margins going into the Soweto derby.
That’s why goalkeepers Siyabonga Mpontshane and Daniel Akpeyi could be the difference for their teams this weekend.
Pirates are sixth on the standings, a position and two points above Chiefs. On Tuesday, Pirates won their game against rookies Sekhukhune United, while Chiefs were defeated by Stellenbosch. That's why their players have to come to the fore.
But that’s easier said than done, given the fact that the two keepers were not the initial first choices at the start of the term. But, nonetheless, they’ll be eager to prove that they can still get their job done for their teams at FNB Stadium on Saturday.
Siyabonga Mpontshane – Orlando Pirates
Five goals conceded in eight matches across all competitions, it could be fair to say that Mpontshane has done enough to impress as the stand-in No. 1. He has been holding the ropes since replacing the injured first-choice Richard Ofori.
In a game such as the derby, he might prove to be one of the heroes. After all, derbies could either make or break a player. Mpontshane needs more stellar outings in order to ensure that he keeps the number one spot when Ofori returns.
Mpontshane has the physique and good reflexes. But that he’s not as quick as he used to be, has been his undoing. His communication with the defenders also needs improvement given the fact that a number of misunderstandings at the back have been costly.
Injuries to Happy Jele and Olisa Ndah could see a new defensive partnership. That’s why Mpontshane has to be comfortable and ensure that he’s vocal and leads the defence well – amid the threats from in form players such as Keagan Dolly.
Daniel Akpeyi – Kaizer Chiefs
Unlike his Pirates counterpart, Akpeyi is the reigning No. 1 at Chiefs. He’s had to do that the hard way. He had to grab the opportunity with both hands after Itumeleng Khune, Bruce Bvuma and Brandon Peterson couldn’t hold on to the top spot.
In four games, Akpeyi has conceded twice and kept two clean sheets. Like Mpontshane, he’s got the physique and good reflexes. The Nigerian has an extra advantage as he’s good at one-on-one duels and blocking close-range efforts.
After impressing under Ernst Middendorp two seasons ago, he’s also earned the trust of his teammates. But kudos to current coach Stuart Baxter who’s trying to field a consistent back-four – a feat that'll help the players understand each other.
Sure, Pirates' key players might be troubled by injuries up front. But they still have players that are, equally, capable of scoring goals. That’s why Akpeyi knows that he cannot afford to be complacent when their neighbours visit the Calabash.