By Mihlali Baleka
It turned out to be a classic end for Kaizer Chiefs. Even after their most improved outing of the season, Kaizer Chiefs failed to win since October in the Dstv Premiership, drawing 1-1 with Bloemfontein Celtic at FNB Stadium ahead of the Christmas break.
In eight league matches, Chiefs have won once against Chippa United – with their season having been bundled up with losses and draws since. But three points today were not only supposed to end their domestic year on a high note, but they would serve as a booster heading into their next assignment.
Chiefs will host Angolan giants Premeiro de Agosto in the first leg of the final round of the Caf Champions League preliminary qualifiers at home on Wednesday, knowing very well that three points could enhance their chances of qualifying for the group stage.
But after a first half of the domestic season where they huffed and puffed without producing the results that would see them nearing the exploits of last season, Chiefs finally showed some prowess and positivity in the last game of the year at home.
They were, however, unfortunate not to wrap up the game in the first half after missing a couple of chances. Instead, it was the solitary goal from lanky midfielder Anthony Agay that rewarded them for their exploits in a half that was played at a frantic pace.
Agay broke his duck of the season with a well-taken header from close range. On the edge of the penalty box, Khama Billiat had acres of time to make his delivery which he perfectly executed, picking up an unmarked Agay who turned his header home.
From there on, it was all Chiefs. Amakhosi’s play that was eye-catching was mobilised in the engine room by a familiar combination. Having been cogs of the reserve team with their understanding, Nkosingiphile Ngcobo and Njabulo Blom renewed that partnership.
Much to their credit, they should have had an assist or two in the first half. In the 22nd minute, Ngcobo released Billiat who did well to race into Celtic’s final before turning his marker and unceremoniously curling his effort inches wide off goal.
But overall, there was something different and quite unique about Chiefs. Perhaps the demotion of goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune who’s been responsible for two howlers in the last two matches, was a boost to Chiefs’ defence who stood their ground in the first half.
Daniel Akpeyi, Khune’s replacement, had little to do with his defence cutting Celtic’s build-ups in their own half. That should have benefitted Chiefs on the stroke of halt-time, hadn’t Lebogang Manyama’s defence splitting pass been wasted by Blom.
Despite Celtic making a whopping four changes during half-time – which were tactical ahead of their next Caf Confederation Cup preliminary round qualifiers clash against Rivers United on Wednesday – Chiefs started the second half just how they ended their first.
Such that they should have increased their tally on the stroke of the half-an-hour mark hadn’t Leonardo Castro been let down by his first touch with only goalkeeper Jackson Mabokgwane to beat after a flick by Eric Mathoho.
But in the blink of an eye – a feat that tainted all Chiefs’ hard work today – Celtic equalised and bagged a point. With their backs facing goal, Chiefs’ defences unceremoniously left an unmarked Tumelo Mangweni onside, with no one picking him up.
Ryan de Jong played a lovely high-flying ball that found Mangweni with acres of space and time before taking sumptuous control and side-footing the ball past Daniel Akpeyi, who had just kept out Celtic from a close-range header. IOL