Chiefs on front foot in first half
The game started in quite scrappy fashion with both sides struggling to maintain possession for a sustained period, and lots of turnovers. Pirates’ left flank immediately looked dangerous with Innocent Maela looking to aggressively attack at every opportunity and with Pule also wider than usual – there was a two-v-one on that wing at times as Zuma struggled with tracking back. However, in terms of early threat, Chiefs were more dangerous. With Godfrey Walusimbi looking to push forward, it allowed Parker the chance to drop deep to receive the ball, before turning to play forward. With Ntshangase closely watched, this looked Chiefs’ best way to penetrate in their build-up, whilst direct passes over the top to expose Happy Jele were also a weapon. First, Booysen picked out Billiat in-behind the Pirates captain, and there was a decent penalty shout from the incident; then Parker’s pass over Jele forced Mpontshane to head clear with Billiat lurking.
When the opening goal did arrive, it was from some poor Pirates build-up play. With Jele in possession, Maela had bombed forward, with Motshwari moving into the left half-space to assist in moving the ball forward. When the ball was shifted over to Munetsi, the young Zimbabwean found that Mlambo was being closely watched by Ntshangase, and Castro had blocked any path back to the goalkeeper or Jele. He decided to go direct towards Mulenga. Chiefs won the first and second balls, and then when Mlambo tried to read a Parker pass, he was taken out of the game by a quick turn by ‘Hond’ and was out of the game. The latter’s pass found Castro as Munetsi missed his interception and, when Walusimbi eventually got the cross in, Mpontshane could only punch the delivery into Billiat for the opener.
This was an impressive goal from Chiefs in terms of forcing Pirates long, and Parker’s excellent turn and pass to eliminate Mlambo and Munetsi. However, from Pirates’ perspective, they paid for the latter pair’s errors, and then a goalkeeping howler.
Chiefs had been the better side in the opening 15 to 20 minutes, but Pirates grew into the game after that, winning the ball higher up and then winning a penalty after some neat interplay between their Zambian strike duo saw Siyabulea Ngezana rashly foul Mulenga. Although Shonga missed the penalty – perhaps not a surprise with his confidence low after a plethora of missed sitters in recent games – Pirates did level soon after through Maela’s excellent header from Shonga’s corner. Ngezana had been beaten in the air, but the quality of the out-swinging delivery, and Maela’s movement, made it a difficult goal to prevent – such was the quality. It wasn’t long before Pirates went in front, as Ngezana made his third big error of the game. After Booysen’s panicked clearance, Shonga’s beautiful reverse pass found Mulenga running off the back of Ngezana and he squared for Pule to finish. This was beautiful execution by Pirates as Chiefs central defenders both failed to cover themselves in glory. The goal had been coming, with Pirates now starting to find space in front of Chiefs’ defence with Ntshangase so focused on closing down Mlambo that he wasn’t there to support Katsande, who had been tackling like a man possessed to break up play. The fluidity of the Pirates attack was also impressive, as Mulenga moved left, Shonga often vacated the middle and Pule got himself into scoring positions.
The rest of the half saw Chiefs looking desperate to equalise and playing some high-risk passes into crowded areas, which saw Pirates win the ball and have three or four great transition opportunities. With Chiefs continuing to push five men forward to press, or at least mark an opponent when Pirates were building up, it forced Micho’s men to play some longer passes. But if Bucs could bypass these five players, Chiefs were completely open and there for the taking, especially with the right flank resembling a freeway, and Pir- ates often having a massive overload on this flank. By the end, Pirates would probably have been disappointed not to have added a third before the break, and would have been delighted by how little an impact Billiat was having in attack. Solinas would need to sort out the shape of his side at halftime or risk conceding more goals.