Kaizer Chiefs grit out cup win against bottom team in the NFD
Kaizer Chiefs, given some jitters recently against supposedly beatable teams in cup competitions, would have been satisfied to do what was needed edging Royal Eagles 1-0 at FNB Stadium on Saturday night to progress past the Nedbank Cup last-32.
Chiefs’ nerviness against smaller sides recently did come later in cup competitions – in the final of the last Nedbank Cup against TS Galaxy, then the semifinals of the Telkom Knockout against Maritzburg United.
Lower-league sides, in particular, often provide tricky obstacles to negotiate in a cup. Chiefs were not threatened, even if they never caught fire brushing convincingly enough past Durban GladAfrica Championship team Eagles.
Itumeleng Khune finally returned between the posts for Chiefs since his unsuccessful two-match comeback from an already long-term injury in September.
He had a quiet night in goal, but did provide the trademark long distribution ball that led to Lebogang Manyama’s 70th-minute winner.
Khama Biliat, coming off the bench at half time, also came back from “rest” and added much-needed creativity to a Chiefs who had been stodgy before the break.
Amakhosi coach Ernst Middendorp has some creativity in his squad, though a notable lack of out-and-out wingers has played a role in their direct style through the midfield.
Apart from Khune and Billiat’s returns, notable was a middle four of Willard Katsande behind Kearyn Baccus and George Maluleka, behind Lebohang Manyama, in a diamond – effectively four central midfielders.
Middendorp clearly expected the combination to inter-pass their way through a side at the bottom of the NFD, who were fairly pedestrian on the night.
Mostly it worked, though this was not a rampant or by at all flambouyant Amakhosi in their traditions.
Chiefs went to the break goalless, but had gritted out a number of half-chances.
Eagles had their share of skill in their frontline, but, starved of possession, had few opportunities to utilise it. They managed a tame early shot at Khune by midfielder Siphesihle Msomi at the start, then another over the top by winger Zanoxolo Mdluli at the end of the half.
A static game was crying out for the introduction, finally, from a period of enforced rest, of Billiat from the bench.
The Zimbabwean replaced Castro. Almost immediately Maluleka’s long chip picked out Billiat’s run, who teed up Manyama to force a save from Maova.
Billiat has the creativity but can also be wasteful, more so after a long period out. A long throw was nodded by Mathoho to the playmaker, whose volley floated past an upright.
As the hour passed, doubts might have crept into Chiefs’ minds that a normal-time breakthrough would come.
When it did, it was started by one of those ranging passes out of his area from Khune that have been missed from Amakhosi’s armoury. Frosler collected and passed in to Manyama, who sublimely controlled, turned and chipped Maova.