Thembinkosi Lorch again emerged as Kaizer Chiefs’ tormentor as Orlando Pirates avoided a rare defeat by their township rivals.
Amakhosi were 10 minutes from clinching an elusive victory, but paid a heavy price with their mistake as Bucs salvaged a valuable point in the sold-out Absa Premiership clash yesterday.
While the two teams will be glad to have walked away with a point each, it is Mamelodi Sundowns who, with two games in hand and three points adrift of log leaders Bidvest Wits, were all smiles.
Wits’ defeat at Highlands Park yesterday made the Soweto derby outcome in Nasrec work more in Sundowns’ favour.
For the better part of yesterday’s encounter, Chiefs had the game in their grip and this was even backed up by the many attempts they had on target, especially in the opening half.
Coach Milutin Sredojevic quite often compares his approach to big games to that of a neurosurgeon at work – analysing the procedure in the best possible way. But, for a while, it was Ernst Middendorp’s men who seemed to have done their homework in their quest for their first league win over the Bucs since December 2014.
A 53rd-minute penalty by Daniel Cardoso gave Amakhosi the lead after Khama Billiat was brought down in the box by Asavela Mbekile.
Although it was a clash of two contrasting styles, Chiefs got their tactics right to press Pirates high up. This, in the process, neutralised the quick attacking Bucs trio of Lorch, Vincent Pule and Justin Shonga.
Middendorp’s preference of the wing players in the team’s first phase of build-ups was at play again, with Siphosakhe Ntiya-Ntiya and debutant Happy Mashiane assigned to lend their youthful energy to the system. It was their persistent attacks, led by live wire Billiat, that tamed Sredojevic’s men.
The attacking intent from both sides was clear, given the early game exchanges that ensued when neither side had broken a sweat.
But it was Chiefs who posted the first missile on target through Billiat, who got the best out of Wayne Sandilands in the Pirates goal.
The build-up to the game was dominated by the goalkeeping position and it was not surprising that both coaches made brave choices in goal.
Sandilands made his return to the Bucs line-up in the CAF Champions League against Espérance last weekend.
With the distinctive black marks below his eyes, the veteran keeper settled the nerves with a comfortable save early on when he parried Billiat’s shot for a corner kick.
Sandilands later caused his bench a scare when he collided with Bernard Parker, but got back up on his feet after being attended to by medical staff.
It was only a few minutes after the incident that he thwarted Parker’s attempt from long range, which the Chiefs striker clearly fancied was his given Sandilands’ notorious history of being beaten from afar.
Middendorp also handed new acquisition Daniel Akpeyi his debut in goal just a week after he was signed from Chippa United.
The Nigerian international had acquainted himself well with some solid saves, until Lorch put one past him.
That goal came after Hendrick Ekstein lost possession amid his team’s transition and Bucs overturned the move in their favour, with Ben Motshwari being the provider of the final pass to Lorch for the equaliser.
Although the game later turned into end-to-end stuff, referee Abongile Tom often hogged unwanted attention with some shocking decisions.
In the end, the spills and thrills capped a fun-filled day where this blockbuster fixture proved yet again that it is more than just a football game.
Off-field activities included a medley of small businesses cashing in on the sale of food, beverages and paraphernalia, while some corporate companies also sent their wares out to be sampled.
Some political parties even pitched up to canvas for membership ahead of the May 8 general elections, with the EFF going the distance by sending a helicopter flying the party’s flag above the Nasrec precinct.
But it was the events on the field that settled the debate for the day on who went home with the bragging rights in a game that also paid tribute to Chiefs midfielder Wiseman Meyiwa, whose career was cut short by injuries that left him paralysed following a horrific car crash in November.
However, business is not over yet for the Soweto powerhouses as they have cup competitions to embark on in the next few days.
Chiefs will next face a tricky assignment against Cape Town’s The Magic FC in the Last 16 of the Ke Yona competition in Port Elizabeth on Sunday.
Pirates, on the other hand, will turn their attention to the CAF Championships League, where they will be away in Tunisia at Espérance for a group stage reverse clash.
Other Absa Premiership results:
Highlands Park 2-1 Bidvest Wits