JOHANNESBURG – No doubt Kaizer Chiefs are stronger in the second half of this Absa Premiership campaign, and maybe there is enough in their form to suggest coach Steve Komphela should be given another season to see out this evolution.
But their championship hopes drifted away because of the 1-1 stalemate against reigning title holders Bidvest Wits here on Saturday night.
It was a must-win clash, especially following log leaders Mamelodi Sundowns’ hard-fought 1-0 victory over Cape Town City on Friday night.
Chiefs had very few chances, striker Ryan Moon rescuing a first half that was beginning to be painful to watch until he broke the deadlock with a headed goal from Siphiwe Tshabalala’s cross – for the third time in four games.
Lehlohonolo Majoro cancelled out Amakhosi’s lead early on in the second half, ending his own goal drought by opening his Wits account since he joined from City last month.
Having admitted regret after Chiefs were held to a goalless draw by Sundowns a week ago, Komphela made just one forced changed against Wits – Mulomowandau Mathoho replacing the suspended Teenage Hadebe.
The rest stayed the same, and it was perhaps an error.
Gustavo Paez, who partnered Moon upfront, was incredibly ineffective and is now a man low on confidence who hasn’t scored a league goal since September, yet he started ahead of Leonardo Castro – who got on the score-sheet on debut two weeks ago, but has not made the starting line-up.
His match fitness is a slight concern, given the fact that he’d been kicking his heels in the stands for several months at Sundowns before moving to Chiefs in January.
But his introduction in the second half, along with another recent arrival in Siphelele Ntshangase, was immediately evident.
Chiefs could not convert, and the same could be said about Wits, who had their fair share of chances but were thwarted by goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune.
That is, with the exception of Majoro’s beautifully headed goal six minutes before the hour mark.
As the tempo picked up, Chiefs realising that the title was beginning to slip away and the Clever Boys desperate to keep moving up the table and pull away from the relegation zone, the rain poured down heavily, affecting the pace and ambience in the crowd as well.
The best chance for Chiefs to grab all three points fell to Ntshangase, but the midfield maestro’s meek attempt was also blocked by Wits goalie Darren Keet.
This was also a costly game not only in terms of points for both side, but in as far as injuries.
Wits defender Denis Weidlich suffered a broken foot from a challenge by Moon in the first half and looks likely to miss the rest of the season, while Amakhosi left back Philani Zulu was taken off on a stretcher into the tunnel, only to return to the bench with a heavily strapped ankle.
But this will be more costly to Chiefs, the title challengers, than Wits, who are probably just chasing a top-eight position at this stage.
Sundowns will be comfortable knowing that at least one of the championship contenders in Chiefs are at arm’s length for now as they enjoy a seven-point lead at the top.