KAIZER Chiefs twice came from behind to claim a hard-fought 3-2 win away to Platinum Stars at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium on Sunday afternoon that keeps them well and truly in the race for the Absa Premiership title.
A brace from former Amakhosi player Thuso Phala had threatened to dent the Soweto giants’ championship challenge, but two goals from Kaizer Motaung Jr either side of a tap-in from Siphiwe Tshabalala saw Vladimir Vermezovic’s side move to within five points of leaders Orlando Pirates – and Chiefs have a game in hand against struggling Moroka Swallows on Wednesday evening.
Chiefs welcomed back strike pairing Knowledge Musona and Kaizer Motaung Jr, with Sthembiso Ngcobo, who scored twice in the Amakhosi’s 2-1 win over Golden Arrows 11 days ago, dropping to the substitutes’ bench. Stars, meanwhile, had to do without defensive kingpin Mbulelo Mabizela, who is still on his way back to full fitness after a recent calf injury.
Dikwena got off to the perfect start, opening the scoring in just the second minute of the game. Mduduzi Nyanda picked out a good pass for former Chiefs player Thuso Phala, who beat Valery Nahayo for pace, held off a challenge from Tinashe Nengomasha and coolly finished past a helpless Itumeleng Khune.
Phala almost doubled the lead in the 11th minute, cutting inside from the left of the penalty area before unleashing a fierce drive on target that forced a sharp save from Khune. The Stars attacker then had another chance from the rebound but Dominic Isaacs got his body in the way.
Despite Stars looking the more threatening of the two teams thanks to their pace up front, it was in fact Chiefs who were enjoying a greater share of possession. However, their service to strikers Motaung Jr and Musona left a lot to be desired.
That was until the 27th minute when Siphiwe Tshabalala curled in a fine cross from the left flank and Motaung Jr, having found space between the two centre-backs, powered a superb header into the back of the net to draw Chiefs level at 1-1.
And four minutes later the Amakhosi thought they had taken the lead when Nahayo toe-poked the ball past Tapuwa Kapini after a cleverly-worked free kick routine, but the Burundian was correctly flagged offside.
All the momentum seemed to be with Chiefs at this stage, but a fine combination between Phala and Joseph Malongoane saw the former handed a sight of goal in the 35th minute. Phala duly beat Khune at his near post with a thunderous shot into the top corner – his second goal of the day to put Stars back into the lead at 2-1.
The early minutes of the second half were evenly matched. Chiefs enjoyed more of the ball and had a good opportunity that saw Abia Nale put a shot just wide of the target in the 53rd minute, but Stars certainly looked capable of adding to their advantage against an Amakhosi backline that looked uncharacteristically frail.
On 57 minutes Tshabalala provided another peach of a cross – this time from the right – but Motaung Jr was unable to notch his second goal, glancing the header wide of the target. It was a far easier opportunity than the one he converted in the first half.
Just past the hour mark the Amakhosi drew themselves level for the second time. A Jimmy Tau cross from the right deflected kindly for the visitors, Reneilwe Letsholonyane’s touch was only half stopped by Kapini and Tshabalala had a tap-in on the goal line to make it 2-2.
Four minutes later Chiefs took the lead for the first time. Letsholonyane was again influential, winning a flick-on from a long ball that Motaung Jr reacted quickest to, scoring with a lunging shot that beat Kapini’s outstretched right hand.
Stars worked hard to find an equaliser in what remained of the game, but the closest they came was a half-chance for substitute Lebo Ramolesa in the 85th minute that was thwarted by the quick reactions of goalkeeper Khune.
Dikwena also ended the game with ten men when midfielder Solomon Mathe was red carded in the second minute of additional time, having picked up two cautions through the course of the match.-Backpagepix