CAPE TOWN – Kaizer Chiefs secured a morale-boosting 3-2 win over Highlands Park in their opening league match of the season at a packed Makhulong Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The Soweto outfit, without the likes of Khama Billiat and Leonardo Castro in the team, scored twice through Lebogang Manyama, with Rodney Ramagalela replying with a brace of his own before Eric Mathoho struck a late winner.
On the balance of play, the defeat was a bit harsh on Highlands Park, but Chiefs coach Ernst Middendorp would have been happy with the character and fight his men showed.
Amakhosi were off to the perfect start when with just four minutes played, new signing Kearyn Baccus whipped in a cross from the right, which was met with a decisive near-post glancing header into the back of the net from Manyama.
The hosts were able to recompose themselves and they were back on even terms in the 22nd minute when Ramagalela helped the ball over the line after Peter Shalulile's initial volley from a Lindokuhle Mbatha cross had been miscued.
Chiefs did come close to adding a second goal when Samir Nurkovic's diving header on 31 minutes went marginally wide, but overall, it was the Lions of the North who looked the better and more industrious side for the remainder of the first half.
The Makhulong Stadium in Tembisa was absolutely bursting at the seams, which helped to fuel what was becoming a riveting encounter.
And following the restart, the fans didn't have to wait long for the next goal to arrive, the home side going in front for the first time when Ramagalela latched onto Mbatha's 47th minute shot, controlling the ball and then firing it past Bruce Bvuma as he turned from a couple of metres out.
The lead didn't last long however as Chiefs hit back within a minute, Manyama neatly guiding in a volley after Nurkovic had nodded the ball into his path.
The action continued and moments later the hosts had a good chance to score, but Mbatha's execution of a back-post header was weak.
With about 20 minutes to go, Chiefs were to find another gear and Highlands keeper Marlon Heugh had to react quickly to keep out a Dumisani Zuma shot, before a succession of crosses, mainly from right-back Reeve Frosler, put the home defence under a whole lot of pressure.
Chiefs' persistence was to pay off in the 83rd minute when the Lions of the North failed to clear a ball into the box and Mathoho's snap-shot struck a defender – wrong-footing Heugh and deflecting into the goal.
Under Owen da Gama, Highlands Park are a really tough nut to crack and there were some anxious late moments for Amakhosi as the hosts pushed for an equaliser, with Sphiwe Mahlangu squandering a great chance in the 90th minute by blazing a volley over the crossbar from 10 yards out.
African News Agency (ANA)