Rustenburg - George Maluleka praised his team-mates for sticking by him during a difficult patch when he scored both goals in Kaizer Chiefs' 2-0 victory against Platinum Stars in their MTN8 semi-final, first leg encounter, on Saturday.
"Since I arrived at the club, my team-mates have always been behind me. I am blessed to be with a bunch of guys who have never stopped believing in me," Maluleka said.
Maluleka joined Amakhosi in January and endured a challenging phase in his career at the Soweto juggernauts. Questions were asked after he missed two crucial penalty kicks against rivals Orlando Pirates as they failed to defend the Carling Black Label Cup last month.
However, during the weekend, the product of University of Pretoria's academy removed all doubts and powered Chiefs to a comfortable position, closing in on an MTN8 final berth.
A splendid brace from the midfield ace secured a comfortable 2-0 victory leaving Stars with the daunting task of surmounting the deficit next weekend at the FNB Stadium.
"It was a tough match and I think the boys did very well. It was a team victory in the end," he said.
"Credit must go the team as a whole and the coach for a game plan that worked in our favour."
Maluleka's first goal came in the 51st minute when he latched onto a loose ball rebound in the penalty box. His second was a pinpoint curling free-kick in the 90th minute which left Stars goalkeeper Siyabonga Mpontshane bamboozled.
Maluleka has come into his own, and shown valuable versatility in his new role as a more advanced midfielder, just behind the striker.
The Tembisa-born player displayed his growing armoury as an attacking threat and was the first to get sight of goal but his header in the first half, from a corner kick, glanced over the crossbar. He was gifted another chance with the Stars defence carved open but his side-footed shot was miscued. As it was, he was only warming up.
Amakhosi entered the cup clash on the back of a four-goal mauling of Mpumalanga Black Aces in the first round of the MTN8 to qualify for the semi-final a fortnight ago. Stars overcame defending Premiership champions Mamelodi Sundowns 2-1 away from home to set up the encounter.
Stars coach Allen Freese said his team was punished for failing to convert their scoring opportunities.
"It was a game where we also had our chances to score and we missed them unfortunately," Freese said.
"We have to go back to the drawing board and regroup. We have to travel to Jo'burg next week and give it our best shot."
Chiefs coach Stuart Baxter, in contrast, applauded his team's clinical victory against a side which had previously been their bogey opponent.
"It was a great performance from the boys. We came here knowing that it would always be difficult to beat Stars on their home ground," Baxter said.
The second leg would be played next Sunday at the FNB Stadium where Chiefs had been dominant of late. Victory would set up a final berth against the winners of the Wits and Orlando Pirates two-legged semi-final.