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Middendorp says Makhulong Stadium made it difficult for Chiefs to pass the ball

24 February 2020 - 14:20 By Marc Strydom
Highlands Park players celebrate after advancing to the Nedbank Cup quarterfinals.
Highlands Park players celebrate after advancing to the Nedbank Cup quarterfinals.
Image: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

The conditions at Makhulong Stadium‚ where the pitch is already a challenge‚ and which was then also drenched in a torrential downpour were an immense leveller as Kaizer Chiefs lost on penalties in the Nedbank Cup to Highlands Park‚ Amakhosi coach Ernst Middendorp said afterwards.

Conditions always affect a game‚ whether perfect for football or less than.

Saturday’s 5-4 penalties last-16 defeat to Chiefs at Makhulong‚ after 1-1 by the end of normal and extra time‚ was played in conditions that were more challenging than most – some of the hardest seen for some time in the Premier Soccer League.

The match had already been something of a midfield slugfest in the first half on a deceptively uneven surface‚ playing into the hands of Highlands‚ an aggressively physical side who play a spoiling game at their Makhulong fortress that can be hard to break down.

The second half was played in a vicious downpour that saw fans in the main stand scrambling to overrun the media and VIP areas.

Such chaos extended onto the field‚ and did make it difficult for Chiefs to string together a passing game.

“I think let’s go to the circumstances under which the game was held in the 120 minutes – the conditions‚ the field [under which] to hold the ball‚ to combine. I think it was nearly impossible‚” Middendorp said.

“And then to lose and to not qualify through a penalty shootout is always something ... it happened‚ but it’s not what we were thinking [for this game].

“Go on the field now‚ and see the circumstances.

"It’s very difficult to keep the high defence line when your opponents are immediately playing the long ball‚ and then you start in your own half again.

“That makes it difficult for a team who wants to pass‚ who want to show that passing through the lines and prepare scoring opportunities.

“I think 85 percent of the fields [in the PSL] are very good. This was just one‚ with the rain and lightning‚ and everything was here today.

"And it’s not to blame anyone but it happened‚ where you really cannot play your passing game and what you want to do.”

Chiefs now only have the Absa Premiership to concentrate on‚ where they are leaders over second-placed champions Mamelodi Sundowns by a now fragile-looking lead of four points‚ attempting to reverse their past four seasons without a trophy.

Amakhosi face a huge league Soweto derby against third-placed Orlando Pirates (six points behind) at FNB Stadium on Saturday.