Cape Town — Depleted Kaizer Chiefs held out for a slender 1-0 DStv Premiership win over Sekhukhune United at Ellis Park on Saturday afternoon and, so doing, are making a late run for inclusion in next season's CAF Confederation Cup competition.
The outcome allows Chiefs to slip into the fourth position with 46 points, and this raises hope of a sought-after Confederation Cup berth. Sekhukhune find itself in 11th place with 32 points.
It was a terrific result for Chiefs after they were forced to field an untried combination as several key players were sidelined.
Central midfielder Phathutshedzo Nange was under suspension, and Kearyn Baccus was nursing a thigh injury. Playmaker Keagan Dolly was out with a calf injury and is unlikely to play again this season. A knee injury has sidelined striker Samir Nurkovic who has been in the headlines of late because of the pending move to Royal AM.
Chiefs took the match by the scruff of the neck almost as soon as referee Victor Hlungwani blew the opening whistle. The result was the Chiefs' pressure forced the Sekhukhune defence to concede three corners in the opening two minutes.
Sekhukhune were poor in dealing with the threat from the set-piece as their hesitancy in front of goal gave Chiefs half chances to have a stab at the ball. However, Sekhukhune's frailty in the striking zone went unpunished in the early goalmouth frenzy.
Moments later, Sekhukhune managed to reverse the flow of the match and their midfielder Nyiko Mobbie managed to break clear out wide on the left flank. His cross was met with a goal-bound header from Charlton Mashumba, one of two strikers in the side's 3-5-2 pattern. Chiefs keeper Bruce Bvuma was well-positioned to make a clean catch and avert danger.
After that let-off, Chiefs regained the initiative and piled on the pressure with repeated attacking sorties deep into the opposition half. Over the next 20 minutes, the Sekhukhune defence conceded three more corners, but their defence held out to avoid further danger.
Sekhukhune were complicating matters by trying to launch attacks from deep options instead of clearing their lines. More often that their possession was turned over before they reached the halfway line.
While the Chiefs' set-piece had drawn blanks after six corners and three close-in free-kicks, they finally came good 12 minutes ahead of halftime.
Khama Billiat who worked in tandem with Leonardo Castro in Chiefs' two-prong attack reeled in a free-kick, which was poorly-cleared in Sekhukhune's penalty area. Chiefs central defender Ramahlwe Mphahlele, who was up for the set-piece rose and above the defence. His powerful header crashed against the crossbar and then dipped into the goals for the opening score of the match.
The goalscoring feat was a poignant moment for Mphahlele who made his PSL debut at the venue in 2007 when he played for Soweto rivals Moroka Swallows.
At the start of the second half, Sekhukhune brought on former Chiefs stalwart Willard Katsande. The Zimbabwean who had more than 300 caps for Chiefs replaced right-back Thabang Kobela.
As the second half wound its course, the game ebbed and flowed as both teams maintained an attacking approach with Sekhukhune slightly better placed to score. Chiefs too had their moments, but their efforts were wayward in the striking zone.