A hat-trick from Samir Nurković and a brace from Leonardo Castro earned Kaizer Chiefs a 5-3 victory in an Absa Premiership eight-goal thriller at Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday night, the spectacular nature of which enhanced Amakhosi’s growing title credentials.
In a frantic first half Celtic took the lead three times, first via Ndumiso Mabena in the 13th minute. Nurkovic equalised in the 21st. Harris Tchilimbou scored for the Free Staters in the 24th. Nurkovic levelled in the 31st. Siphelele Luthuli made it 3-2 in the 35th.
Chiefs owned the second half as Castro levelled for a third time in the 47th, then Nurkovic put Amakhosi ahead in the 61st. Castro headed a fourth goal out of five from set pieces for Chiefs, making it 5-3, in the 71st.
With their confidence soaring as they approach a 10-point lead by Christmas, Chiefs cannot be accused of not being exciting. On Saturday, even as an unusually disorganised defence bled goals in the first half, Amakhosi coach Ernst Middendorp never relented on whipping his team forward on attack.
Celtic coach Lehlohonolo Seema had a clever plan, troubling Chiefs with pace on the counterattack. Amakhosi never capitulated to the temptation to tighten, or play for a draw, though they did resolve shape issues at the break.
If a shaky first half raised questions about Chiefs’ title credentials, their bravery to press relentlessly forward and a magnificent second half earned a dramatic victory that kept the dream alive.
A 3-5-2 formation has its place, but with Bernard Parker, all of 33 years old, employed at left wingback to stomp down the flank à la Roberto Carlos? That does seem a stretch.
Chiefs’ backline were at times shockingly out of shape in conceding three first-half goals. Amakhosi’s attack, packed with players — and one Nurković — capable of scoring goals, notched two in the other direction.
Celtics’ answer to the Serb was skilful playmaker Mabena.
They took the lead when Lantshene Phalane’s low-trajectory pass from deep was missed in the middle by Tebogo Potsane. Parker allowed Mabena space behind him, then allowed the forward to cut inside and finish past goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi.
Lebogang Manyama’s free kick from the left was struck low to Nurković, who bounced the ball up, turned and volleyed past Mondli Mpoto.
Three minutes later Chiefs’ centreback Erick Mathoho charged forward on a challenge, breaking the shape of his line, and allowing Mabena to shake free and release Harris Tchilimbou to finish.
Manyama’s corner was not cleared by Celtic and Daniel Cardoso looped a chip into the danger area from where Nurković headed in.
On Celtic’s classic counterattack, Mabena’s back-heel set Potsane free who advanced and squared for winger Siphelele Luthuli — again one-on-one — to slot home.
Shortly after Middendorp had introduced Dumisani Zuma for Parker after the break, Chiefs earned a corner. Manyama’s delivery found Castro unmarked, and the Colombian was not about to miss a free header.
From the break, it was a different Amakhosi, one charged to ram home the advantage after scoring. They added another, Castro’s cross finding Nurković to smash a volley.
From a Manyama corner, Castro again was left free to head Chief’s third of the half past Mpoto.