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Chiefs edge derby out thanks to Akpeyi masterclass

Chiefs edge derby out thanks to Akpeyi masterclass
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Amakhosi can once again dream of their first league title in six years, this after they secured a priceless three points in the Soweto derby.

Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi produced an astounding and outstanding performance between the sticks as his team beat bitter rivals Orlando Pirates 1-0 in the 169th match of the Soweto Derby.

The shot stopper’s inclusion or omission – for Itumeleng Khune – from the matchday had been one of the many talking points leading up to this fixture.

The Nigerian, who had established himself as Chiefs’ number one while Khune was out with injury, made a crucial error that led to Daylon Claasen’s first of two goals in two minutes as Chiefs lost 2-1 at home, to Maritzburg United, a fortnight ago.

That result has put the league leaders under pressure‚ seeing their points gap slashed from nine to four.

Khune then featured in the next game, a Nedbank Cup loss to Highlands Park. The Chiefs keeper did relatively well over the 120 minutes of the game, before Chiefs were bumped out on penalties.

This, along with Akpeyi’s last performance, led to some Amakhosi faithful calling for Khune to make his return to the starting line-up permanently heading into the derby game.

Chiefs’ head coach, Ernst Middendorp did his best to keep mum on who he would play come Saturday, at the FNB Stadium.

“It’s a very tough decision. Everybody should respect it at the end of the day. And that’s it‚” Middendorp said when asked on who would be in goal come Saturday.

Eventually when the team sheets were made public, it was Akpeyi who was in goal for Amakhosi.

The 33-year-old proceeded to put on a goalkeeping masterclass as he made save after save to ensure that Chiefs held on for victory, and put some much-needed distance between themselves and their fellow title hopefuls.

Speaking while receiving his man of the match award, Akpeyi had harsh words for his detractors.

“I want to share this award with my coaches because it seems they are ones who believed in me following what happened two weeks ago, when these people (the fans) turned against me. But they stood by my side and they believed in me,” said Akpeyi.

When the game kicked-off, it had been the Buccaneers who made the strongest start, controlling play and moving the ball around effortlessly.

They almost made that good start count when Thembinkosi Lorch’s cross from the left found Luvuyo Memela on the far side to head back in. But Akpeyi brilliantly denied the league’s top scorer – Gabadinho Mhango – with a point-blank save from the header.

After the 20th minute, momentum shifted as Chiefs took control of the game, a grip they wouldn’t release until the final whistle. And unlike their rivals, they made that control count.

Lebogang Manyama, left in acres of space by the Pirates defence, drilled a low shot from outside the box that sailed past Pirates goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands in the 31st minute.

Khama Billiat then came in for Amakhosi in the 64th minute, replacing the injured Leonardo Castro.

It did not take long for the Zimbabwean forward to put pressure on the Pirates defence. He was played through on the right, and had an option for a shot but unsuccessfully tried to find Manyama instead. Ntsikelelo Nyauza with the crucial interception.

The teams continued to spar with each other, without any real penetration.

Then in the 73rd minute the Buccaneers shifted gears in an attempt to force an equaliser.

However, they found the indomitable Akpeyi standing tall between the posts once more. 

He produced an awe-inspiring triple save to deny Memela and Mhango at point-blank range, before going on to deny Lorch; all in one brilliant sequence of play. Chiefs supporters were jumping up and down in ecstasy, while Pirates supporters buried their faces buried in disbelief.

There was still time for Akpeyi to add one more stupendous save to his matchday highlights reel. This time he launched himself into the air to deny Lorch in the box from a Vincent Pule corner.

Amakhosi held on despite six minutes of injury time, sealing victory over their rivals in what is their 50th anniversary.

The victory handed Josef Zinnbauer his first loss since he took over the reins at Orlando in December 2019.

As for Chiefs, they have once again opened a nine-point gap between themselves and second-placed Mamelodi Sundowns; with nine games left to play. Although the Brazilians have a game in hand.  

Chiefs coach Ernst Middendorp, in a remarkable statistic, remains unbeaten in eight Soweto derbies in his two stints as Chiefs coach, having won six and drawn two.

The victory also saw Chiefs beat Pirates twice in a season for the first time since 2005/6 season. DM

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