NELSPRUIT – New Kaizer Chiefs coach Ernst Middendorp saw his team put in a good all-round showing as they held off a stiff challenge from SuperSport United in a 1-0 league win at the Mbombela Stadium on Wednesday night.
A superbly-crafted shot 20 minutes into the second half from George Maluleka, who chose the perfect moment to net his first goal in over a year, was just what the club needed as they hope to see Middendorp turning around their fortunes - an early win crucial in terms of injecting confidence into the camp.
It was certainly a hard-earned, and deserved win, as Chiefs played some positive and exciting football going forward, and also did well to limit the chances on goal for a dangerous SuperSport attack.
With Chiefs looking confident and incisive early on, the first talking point came after two minutes played, when a goal-bound Khama Billiat was hacked down from behind by Morgan Gould, who would have been relieved to have only seen a yellow card.
After Teboho Mokoena had gone close for SuperSport with a powerful hit from 30-yards in the fifth minute, Amakhosi continued to impress with their interplay and Leonardo Castro should have done better when he skewed a 12th minute shot wide after Billiat had set him up inside the box.
Billiat was clearly at the heart of everything good Chiefs were doing and a lovely ball by the Zimbabwean threaded Lebogang Manyama in on goal seven minutes later, but Matsatsantsa keeper Ronwen Williams made a world class save to keep out the attempted lob.
The Tshwane side's best chance of the opening stanza came in the 28th minute, when some quick-passing around the box teed up Evans Rusike for a shot on the angle, but he was kept out by the sharp reaction of Chiefs keeper Virgil Vries' right foot.
While there was also a shot fired wide by Fagrie Lakay, it was certainly Chiefs who were looking the bigger threat and only a superbly-timed tackle by Grant Kekana stopped Billiat from pulling the trigger right in front of goal a few minutes before halftime.
The Glamour Boys maintained their front-foot approach after the restart, and it took another fantastic reflex save by Williams to keep out Billiat, before the same player squandered one more chance for the hosts when he ballooned an effort over the bar from 12-yards out.
Chiefs needed to turn their superiority into a goal, and captain for the night Maluleka was the man to step up to the plate, caressing a perfectly flighted 20-yard effort into the bottom corner to give his side a 64th minute lead.
As SuperSport tried to probe for a way back into the game, Amakhosi were able to strike on the counter, but with Manyama and then Billiat indecisive around the box, Williams was not forced into making any further saves.
The game continued at a pulsating pace and remained on a knife-edge right up to full-time, but with neither team able to create any further clear-cut chances, Chiefs were able to hold on fairly comfortably for the win. It leaves them six points behind Premiership pace-setters Orlando Pirates.
African News Agency (ANA)