JOHANNESBURG - It’s far from the result Owen da Gama, the Highlands Park coach, wanted, especially at home and on the back of a single victory in six matches prior to hosting Kaizer Chiefs here.
But there’s no doubt he would have taken it, probably even feeling his men could have won this Absa Premiership fixture and ended Amakhosi’s three-game winning streak under coach Giovanni Solinas.
For the third time this season Highlands have held their own against the league’s top sides, the title contenders if you like. Their opener in their return to the top division following promotion from the National First Division was a morale-boosting 1-1 draw away to Orlando Pirates, although they never had a single shot on target in that encounter as goalie Wayne Sandilands mishit a back pass to allow an own goal.
Then a few weeks later, in another trip away from home, Da Gama’s men shut down reigning league champions Mamelodi Sundowns at Loftus and returned with a precious point in a match opposition coach Pitso Mosimane accused them of “parking the bus” and playing not to lose.
They did anything but play to avoid defeat here in Tembisa against Chiefs, whose deadly attack of Khama Billiat, Dumisani Zuma and Lebogang Manyama was expected to be a threat after the three consecutive wins.
As early as the third minute the hosts could have taken a lead through striker Peter Shalulile, whose return to the starting line up following months on the sidelines because of a knee injury gave them some impetus going forward.
But the Namibian forward had his shot go just inches wide of the posts. It set the tone nonetheless as Highlands were on the front foot right until the final whistle. Chiefs had their chances, too, although they were minimal and nothing too difficult for goalkeeper Tapuwe Kapini to deal with.
Congratulations to Lindokuhle Mbatha for being Man OF The Match Tonight. pic.twitter.com/zF2skiKZ3Z
Zuma almost benefited from a defensive lapse from Highlands, but fired his attempt straight at skipper Kapini, who saved it with his feet and kicked it into safety in the first half. Then substitute Hendrik Ekstein was sent through on goal and his failed chip didn’t quite come off as Kapini watched it roll past his near post in the second half. The midfielder got at the end of another attempt moments later, but also sent that wide.
Perhaps a draw is a fair result: while Highlands may have had the bulk of the chances – and a goal correctly disallowed for offside – they were just not clinical enough and the three that Chiefs had could have also found the back of the net.
If Da Gama can work on their finishing and putting up similar performances even against the lesser sides in the Premier League, then he shouldn’t be worried about relegation. The stalemate pushed them up into the top eight, while Amakhosi moved up to second behind Bidvest Wits despite their winning streak ended here.