JOHANNESBURG - “It’s still early days.” That was the sober assessment of Kaizer Chiefs assistant coach Shaun Bartlett on the talk that his team are title certainties.
After the naysayers predicted the team would have yet another disappointing term under the stewardship of Ernst Middendorp, Chiefs have defied the odds.
They find themselves at the summit of the Premiership standings, 10-points clear of Mamelodi Sundowns, who’ve played one game less.
This time last season, Chiefs were at their lowest as they were stuck in seventh spot, following a poor start under Giovanni Solinas.
The German did little to remedy the situation as the team disappointingly finished ninth on the log and lost the Nedbank Cup final to second-tier TS Galaxy on the final day of the season.
But having had a full pre-season, Middendorp is brewing a Chiefs side that’s eager to win and rediscover the club’s glory days, at all costs.
Middendorp’s right-hand man Bartlett has urged the supporters to remain grounded and refrain from putting the champagne on ice for now as there’s still seven months before the curtain comes down on the domestic season.
“Anything is possible but like I said, it’s still early days (for championship talk), we’ve only played 11 games so far,” said Bartlett, who was talking on the sidelines after guiding the reserve team to a disappointing 1-0 loss against arch rivals Orlando Pirates on Saturday afternoon.
“Nobody is given a league title in November or December. We’ve got to be consistent and continue doing what we’ve been doing for the last four months.
“I think that is key. There’s six, seven months to go this season and we’ve got to make sure that we stay consistent.”
With some of their players set to return from representing their countries this week, Bartlett is banking on the stalwarts to return with a clean bill of health, especially with their next assignment being against Maritzburg United in the Telkom Knockout semi-finals on Sunday afternoon at Mbombela Stadium.
Get a win there and Chiefs will take a step closer to ending their four-year trophy drought. However, that won’t be like taking candy from a kid, especially being without integral figures like defender Eric Mathoho, No 1 goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi and captain Willard Katsande, who are suspended.
Bartlett, though, believes they’ve got a talented group of playerswho will seamlessly fill those gaps.
“It will be a big test but in the game against Chippa United we made eight changes and we won 2-0. We brought in goalkeeper Bruce Bvuma for that game. We’ve got players that are capable of doing the same job, if not better,” he said.
Having coached the Team of Choice before, Middendorp will have some tricks up his sleeve to tame Eric Tinkler’s men, who are in form this season.