Kaizer Chiefs stunned again by Maritzburg in potential title blow
If Kaizer Chiefs do not win the Absa Premiership in 2019-20, Saturday, February 15 – the evening of which where they lost 2-1 at their FNB Stadium base to Maritzburg United – may well go down as the date they lost it.
This match seemed to show what pressure can do on to a relatively inexperienced combination, already lifted to some extent, but also feeling the weight of a 50th anniversary season as they attempt to reverse their previous four seasons without a trophy.
Chiefs came into the weekend with a nine-point lead over second-placed Orlando Pirates.
But their biggest threat to the title, defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns, reducing that lead to seven points, as they beat Chippa United 3-0 at Loftus in the earlier game to leapfrog back into second, seemed to weigh on Chiefs.
Chiefs needed a win to re-establish 10 points over Downs, but having played a game more. They froze against ambitious little KwaZulu-Natal team United – whose work ethic had already troubled Amakhosi with a damaging 1-1 league draw just before Christmas, which had followed a 2-1 Telkom Knockout semifinal upset in November.
Chiefs paid the price of only playing the way they had needed to from the start after Daylon Claasen’s bombshell brace in the space of two minutes (65th and 67th) rocked the Premiership.
Samir Nurkovic pulled one back in the 77th. But the damage had been done. Chiefs will not see another Maritzburg blue jersey in a match this season. They will be more than happy not to.
United coach Eric Tinkler had declared he wanted as many points as possible from his well-drilled combination’s tough trip to Johannesburg this week, and had earned half that with three from their 1-0 win against Bidvest Wits at Bidvest Stadium on Wednesday night. Maritzburg now seem on course to match their best finish of fourth following these two stunning defeats of Gauteng heavyweights.
Maritzburg were tight again against a Chiefs, who had to work for their chances in the first half.
Amakhosi could surely make their lives easier if they could create more chances from open play over 90 minutes. Predictably, it was from set pieces that they appeared the most dangerous.
Lebogang Manyama’s corner was deflected at the near post by the head of Nurkovic to force a reflex save from United goalkeeper Richard Ofori.
Nurkovic later could not connect Manyama’s free-kick with an open goal beckoning.
Maritzburg had come to play in the other direction, with Tebogo Tlolane, Thabiso Kutumela and Claasen dangerous with the ball at their feet. But they were largely snuffed out by Chiefs’ defence.
The Soweto giants were workmanlike but lacked spark edging the first half. They attempted to lift the skill level from the break.
Middendorp – seemingly too predictably – brought on Dumisani Zuma for Leonardo Castro just after the hour.
Zuma almost had an immediate impact, picking out Billiat on the left of United’s area, who played back in to Manyama in the middle, whose attempt at a finish ended in the arms of Ofori on the ground.
Chiefs had not taken their best chance of the game. At the other end, within moments of that, United took two.
Daniel Akpeyi tried to handle Pogiso Sanoka’s cross with one hand, spilling on the left to Kutumela, who fed Tlolane. The winger’s cross found Claasen, who made no mistake with the volley, Akpeyi still out in no-man’s land.
Tlolane again provided the cross from the left, this time finding Kutumela at the far post to scoop back into the middle for Claasen to head in from three metres.
Manyama’s corner finding Nurkovic at the near post to powerfully head past Ofori came too late for Chiefs to salvage a result.