Maritzburg dent Chiefs’ title bid

Maritzburg United have put a dent in Kaizer Chiefs’ Absa Premiership title bid with an upset 2-1 win at the FNB Stadium on Saturday evening.

Daylon Claasen netted a second-half brace for the Team of Choice, who firmly establish themselves in sixth place, while the Amakhosi suffer only a third league loss of the 2019/20 season and see their lead over Mamelodi Sundowns remain at seven points (having now played a game more than the Brazilians).

Chiefs were lively in the opening minutes, using clever diagonal balls behind Maritzburg’s full-backs to bring the likes of Lebogang Manyama and Khama Billiat into the game.

They also looked dangerous from set pieces and nearly claimed the lead on 25 minutes when Samir Norkovic put a glancing header on target from Manyama’s corner kick, but goalkeeper Richard Ofori made a sharp save to keep the game level.

Ten minutes later Ofori was on hand again to make a fine save, getting down low to his right to keep out a drive from Nurkovic – the subsequent loose ball fell for Siphosakhe Ntiya-Ntiya, who toe-poked the ball onto the upright from close range but had been flagged offside anyway.

The half ended with Chiefs still in the ascendancy in terms of possession and attempts at goal, but the score line was locked at 0-0. The second stanza opened with Maritzburg making a change in defence, replacing Siyanda Xulu with Pogiso Sanoka.

The Team of Choice looked more proactive and inventive in the second half, changing up their play with the occasional ball over the top of the defence to try and use the pace of Thabiso Kutumela and Judas Moseamedi, but they struggled to create clear-cut chances.

The Amakhosi looked to take more initiative in attack with the introduction of the speedy Dumisani Zuma just after the hour mark. The substitute was almost immediately involved in a move which created a one-one-one chance for Manyama, but his stabbed effort was kept out by Ofori.

Maritzburg soon capitalised on some poor decision-making from Chiefs goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi, who didn’t properly punch away a cross and found himself in no-man’s land off his goal line. Tebogo Tlolane played in a cross from the left to pick out Daylon Claasen, who swept the ball into a virtually unguarded net to give United a shock lead in the 65th minute.

Just two minutes later the Team of Choice scored a second: again Tlolane provided an excellent cross from the left, Kutumela arrived at the far post to put the ball back across the face of goal and Claasen headed home from close range to put daylight between the visitors and the Soweto giants.

However, the deficit was reduced by Chiefs on 78 minutes when their set-piece strength once again came to the fore: Manyama’s corner kick again picked out Nurkovic and this time the striker’s header was beyond the reach of Ofori.

The Amakhosi threw everything they had at Maritzburg in the dying minutes, but the visiting team held firm in defence – led by the excellent Ofori – to claim three points and signal a potential turning point in the title battle.

The teams will return to Premiership action in two weeks, with Maritzburg at home to Stellenbosch on Friday 28 February and Chiefs facing Soweto rivals Orlando Pirates on Saturday 29 February.

Kaizer Chiefs (0) 1 (Nurkovic 78’)

Maritzburg United (0) 2 (Claasen 65’ 67’)

Chiefs: Akpeyi, Frosler (Parker 72’), Cardoso, Mathoho, Ntiya-Ntiya, Katsande, Maluleka (Agay 69’), Billiat, Manyama, Castro (Zuma 62’), Nurkovic

Maritzburg: Ofori, Allie, Xulu (Sanoka 46’), De Reuck, Tlolane (Jappie 83’), Buchanan, Ntshangase, Kunene, Claasen, Moseamedi, Kutumela (Nyoni 68’)