CAPE TOWN - Cape Town City coach Eric Tinkler believes the half-time introduction of Thabo Nodada swung the MTN8 second-leg semi-final in his team's favour.
Although City eventually cruised into the final against Mamelodi Sundowns with a 4-0 victory over Moroka Swallows on Wednesday evening in Dobsonville, the Citizens did not have it their own way in the first half. In fact, according to Tinkler, they were struggling to assert themselves.
"I thought in the first 45 minutes we were not great. Defensively we were not structured as we had planned. Our pressing strategy was not the way we had planned. It was very easy for them to get out from the build-up phase, we wanted to press them but they got out of the press very easily," Tinkler said.
"They pushed (Lebohang) Mokoena a lot higher, almost four attackers on our back three. We struggled to win the ball, and when we did win it, we struggled to retain possession, and we struggled to create opportunities. We had to soak up a lot of pressure in the first half."
However, the entire complexion of the game changed in the second period with the introduction of the silky Nodada. The creative midfielder has been on the road to recovery from a hamstring injury, and has only been sparingly the past couple of matches. But like Tinkler said before the game that as Nodada regains his fitness, he will play a bigger role as the season progresses.
And that's exactly what the former King Edward High (KES) school learner did when he came on for Abdul Jeleel Ajagun at the halftime break. Nodada was particularly instrumental in Surprise Ralani's second goal as he broke free on the right of midfield before delivering an inch-perfect cross to an unmarked Ralani that could just tap the ball home to secure the tie.
"At halftime I spoke to the team about where we needed rectify things, and how we wanted to press. We obviously made the one change, taking off Ajagun and brought on Thabo Ndoda to strengthen the midfield a bit more," Tinkler said.
"Once we got the goal the game turned on its head. We started to look confident. We kept possession a lot better. Obviously they needed to commit bodies forward and we literally punished them on the counter and we ended up winning the game very comfortable."
City will now, though, have to switch their focus back to the Dstv Premiership where they face a tough encounter against Orlando Pirates at home on Saturday (5:30pm start).
The Citizens' league form has been patchy in contrast to their good Cup run with Tinkler's team only managing to pick up five points from four games thus far.
The problem thus far has been the lack of creativity, resulting in the lack of goals, but hopefully they can draw confidence from this resounding victory in conjunction with Nodada finding his rhythm again.