Kaizer Chiefs have 50th birthday cake and eat it in beating Highlands
If the saying goes that you cannot have your cake and eat it, someone should have told Kaizer Chiefs that as their 50th birthday celebration Absa Premiership match produced a clinical 3-0 win against Highlands Park at FNB Stadium.
Chiefs had their cake – chairman Kaizer Motaung, surrounded by legends, sliced a huge one on the side of the field at half time – and ate it, and had Highlands for seconds.
Goals from Erick Mathoho in the 27th minute and Leonardo Castro in the 57th and 70th brought immense cheer to a festive crowd of some 45,000, who had benefited from the free tickets Chiefs gave out in the build-up to the game.
Amakhosi coach Ernst Middendorp seems to keep twisting his side’s formations into some shape of unpredictable and awkward for opposition counterparts to battle to figure out.
He had a midfield four with no wingers, formed in an unorthodox block rather than a diamond of Willard Katsande and George Maluleka behind Kearyn Baccus and Lebogang Manyama.
Lazarous Kambole came in as an enforced change for a big suspension in Samir Nurkovic, behind centre-forward Leonardo Castro.
Highlands’ sixth placing coming into the game showed coach Owen Da Gama’s repeated mantra that they are still learning in the PSL is a plan coming together steadily. The MTN8 finalists were a chewy, hard-baked, if unimaginatively conceptualised, cake for Chiefs to get a bite into.
Amakhosi were far from a remake in the image of the beautiful teams who swept all before them in the two decades following their founding on January 7, 1970.
But Chiefs went about their job with professionalism, not getting carried away by the occasion. If the result was ultimately ground out, the convincing nature in which that was carried out spoke of a team with some tentative ability to seal a half-century season with a league title.
After all, following second-placed Mamelodi Sundowns being held 0-0 at home by Bidvest Wits on Tuesday, the win and re-establishment of a six-point gap were as important as a birthday celebration for Chiefs.
Amakhosi muscled a goal advantage by the break. It seemed to be Dumisani Zuma – Middendorp’s de facto super-sub – coming on early for injured Kambole that sparked Amakhosi up-front.
Highlands first had a chance to spoil the party, Rodney Ramagalela finding Tendai Ndoro to shoot at Daniel Akpeyi.
Kambole suffered a clash of heads with midfielder Sello Motsepe. Both were strapped, but it was Chiefs' forward who groggily left the field. Zuma came on in the 22nd.
Castro earned a free-kick on the right edge of Highlands' area. Manyama's delivery was onto the head of Mathoho to rock the crossbar, the centreback reacting to the rebound with an overhead kick that was scrambled in off his upright by keeper Marlon Heugh.
With a lead, Chiefs found more fluency from the break.
Baccus shrugged off Ramagalela on the right, cantered through and squared for Castro to flick past Heugh. From Maluleka’s corner, Heugh came and missed and Castro headed the third.