JOHANNESBURG – Ernst Middendorp was unconvincing in his statement that Kaizer Chiefs will support Virgil Vries after his mistake cost Amakhosi dearly against Mamelodi Sundowns on Saturday at FNB Stadium.
The Namibian goalkeeper misjudged a simple catch from a long ball by Lyle Lakay.
Lebohang Maboe pounced on the mistake and handed the Brazilians a 2-1 victory in a match where they were outclassed tactically and physically.
Vries “stole” the show with his mistake while the regular first choice, Itumeleng Khune, was watching from the stands due to a shoulder injury that will keep him out of action for the remainder of the season.
Middendorp confirmed the Khune blow in a matter-of-fact tone without showing any emotions, just like he did when he spoke about supporting Khune’s replacement.
“It’s not a big deal,” Middendorp said about Vries’ mistake, with a stern face.
“It’s good for him that the next game comes four days (after the loss on Saturday). Bidvest Wits is definitely the same level (as Sundowns). This match will need us to concentrate. We will work it out, process what happened, be fresh and go to that match all out.
We need to support him. There will be no finger-pointing business, not from the coach and not from the players. The disappointment is big, but we’re definitely supporting each other. At the moment I would say it’s important to get this team structured to see how far we can go and how well we work together - from teammate to teammate. What I have seen is positive.”
The German might have been unconvincing as he uttered this statement, probably still disappointed by Chiefs losing a game they should have won, but Amakhosi have no choice but to back Vries in the absence of Khune.
Vries, 29, is the most experienced goalkeeper Chiefs have in their roster. Their third choice goalkeeper, Bruce Bvuma, is untested at this level even though he showed promise in the few matches where he deputised for Khune. But there wasn’t a microscope on his performance during that time.
The keeper that Middendorp will field against Wits on Wednesday at Bidvest Stadium will be under huge scrutiny. If it’s Vries, the fans will be looking to see if he can make up for that howler.
If it’s Bvuma, the 23-year-old has to prove he can do better than Vries and his performances will not be judged in isolation but will be compared with those of the Namibian.
It doesn’t help the situation that regular rightback, Ramahlwe Mphahlele, is still out injured. Middendorp can’t afford to make two drastic changes in defence, especially against the best attack in the league.
But while the scrutiny fell on Vries, it was in fact Chiefs’ attack that cost them against Sundowns. Amakhosi didn’t convert a number of chances they created in their dominant spell. They were made to pay for it, with a deflating defeat that came just before the club’s 49th birthday celebrations today.
“We have to design the programme and the training (to solve the goal scoring problem,” Middendorp said. “That’s our job as coaches. We have to go into it and immediately work on it. We need to say okay, bring the players into this situation and this moment that they’ll experience in a game and let’s try to solve the problem.
I agree that we definitely didn’t make the right decisions and the right movements in the final third. I was wondering why a striker would move in a certain direction, closing the space for their own teammate. We have analysed it. We will try to find out what can be done better and what has to be done better.”