PRETORIA – The venue clad with mostly the yellow and black of a struggling Kaizer Chiefs, the players delivered a big performance when one was desperately needed and expected as the Amakhosi beat Mamelodi Sundowns 2-1 in the Absa Premiership on Tuesday night.
But coach Steve Komphela’s starting line-up, with several key players out injured, was far from convincing.
Siyabonga Ngezana was thrown in at the deep end and handed a first start in the Amakhosi colours alongside Daniel Cardoso and Mulomowandau Mathoho in a three-man central defence – a big moment for a player who’d been improving his craft in the reserve league.
Ngezana was under pressure, especially in the opening few minutes where Chiefs soaked in the Sundowns attack and eventually watered it down.
Ngezana broke the deadlock five minutes into the second half.
His performance was surely inspired by those around him who were under the microscope to step up for their beleaguered coach Komphela, who has a target on his back and is believed to be on borrowed time at Naturena.
Until Mathoho mistimed his tackle late in the game, fouling Percy Tau and leaving referee Christopher Harrison with no choice but to point to the penalty spot – which was converted by Themba Zwane to pull one back for Sundowns – the Chiefs back-three had been superb in dealing with the Brazilians’ deadly attack.
Amakhosi had also used their chances to good effect and had punished Sundowns again, with Bernard Parker showing composure to bag a second for the visitors not long after Ngezana had drawn first blood.
Parker himself was one of the players singled out, and was due to take some responsibility at a time when Komphela was taking all the criticism.
The attention had zoomed in on the experienced striker, given the unavailability of leading goal-scorer this season in Gustavo Paez, who is out of action for the next three weeks or so.
Mathoho’s foul in the box, leading to the goal that would have meant a nervy finish for Chiefs, was another rush of blood to the head – and perhaps a sign that he’s still not quite back to his best yet – but he’d done well to marshal the defence and help protect Ngezana.
Parker put in a shift, too.
His goal rolled back the years to the time he was Bafana Bafana’s go-to man for goals and the Premier League’s Golden Boot winner several seasons ago.
But he’s not done enough of that, and would have again found himself on the bench had Paez been fit.
The setback Chiefs suffered in the shock defeat to Baroka FC prior to the international break three weeks ago needed this kind of performance for the supporters to still believe that this team stand a chance to win some silverware this season – something they have not been able to do in the last two years that Komphela has been coach.
That’s why he remains under immense pressure. His tactics here on the night were spot-on, stifling Sundowns from being their creative self and closing down the pockets they use to finish off the opposition.
The Brazilians finished the game with just nine men after Tiyani Mabunda was shown two yellow cards shortly after the hour mark and striker Cuthbert Malajila, who had come on as a substitute, leaving the pitch on a stretcher after an injury.
Komphela goes from the frying pan and into the fire on Saturday in the Soweto Derby, but this massive victory certainly buys him time.