Chiefs keep breathing space

2012-12-10 07:05

Cape Town – With even more hype than usual preceding the first Absa Premiership derby of the season between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs, the hard-fought 1-1 outcome in challenging heat on Saturday will hardly have surprised too many punters.

The sheer magnitude of the occasion between the Soweto “big two”, played out before an audience of some 87 000 at FNB Stadium, seemed to engulf many of the players on both sides.

After all, it went out to a wider global television constituency than before and the event also only swells as an iconic “social” date on the Highveld calendar, with VIP and fashion statement-spotting on the higher tiers just about as much a part of the on-day landscape as the action between the white lines itself. 

This meeting was again anything but a showpiece of technical excellence in South African football, although with dispossession a prolific feature virtually throughout, the game at least had plenty of counter-attacking fluidity to it and no lack of goalmouth activity.

The respective goals also bore signs of classy finishing, Collins Mbesuma’s for the Buccaneers and later Lehlohonolo Majoro’s leveller for Chiefs both the result of sweet, well-placed left-footed strikes.

Pirates coach Roger de Sa rightly noted afterwards that it was “important not to lose today”, as that outcome would have pushed leaders Chiefs into six-point daylight over their fiercest rivals on the table.

He also made the valid observation that “this result won’t define the champions” for 2012/13.

But will he also quietly be ruing the possibility that his charges, either consciously or subconsciously, went into goal-protection mode a tad too early, considering that they had grabbed the lead inside the first quarter of the fixture?

While it was true that they had a potentially game-killing second goal by Mbesuma ruled out for off-side, it always seemed as though Pirates began to retreat more and more as the match progressed and just about invited the near-inevitable equaliser.

The Amakhosi, frankly, will be particularly comfortable with the stalemate, given their ongoing three-point cushion at the summit ... and also a pretty strong likelihood that they can extend it further over the remaining two rounds of PSL matches before the season goes into a lengthy mid-summer recess.

They have two home matches to contemplate ahead of the break, after all, first against the University of Pretoria next Saturday and then AmaZulu (basement club at the time of writing) the following Tuesday (December 18).

Pirates have the tougher pair of fixtures, on paper, and both “away” even if their game against surprise packages Maritzburg United on Friday will probably seem more like a home clash as they are likely to command the bulk of support at neutral Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth.

Next up for the Buccaneers, on December 19, are Golden Arrows at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.

There just seems a better chance of Chiefs winning both their games before Christmas, which means that they could have the satisfaction of going on “holiday” five or six points clear of Pirates if, say, they fail to win at least one of theirs.

With 16 rounds of PSL activity to be done and dusted before hostilities finally resume on February 12 for the 14-round run-in, such a scenario would make it squarely “advantage Chiefs” entering what some experts are viewing as virtually a new season considering the length of time in which league activity is suspended.

The next Chiefs-Pirates derby, incidentally, is scheduled for March 9, perhaps a bit earlier than some neutrals would like, bearing in mind that the season will still have more than two months to go.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing