Kaizer Chiefs fans. Picture: SOWETAN
Kaizer Chiefs fans. Picture: SOWETAN

Mistakes at key moments cost Kaizer Chiefs in their 2-1  Premiership home defeat against bogey side Maritzburg United at FNB Stadium at the weekend‚ coach Ernst Middendorp said.  But perhaps there was more to it than that.

Middendorp correctly pointed out that Chiefs were not poor against the team who managed a costly league draw against Amakhosi in Pietermaritzburg in December‚ and earlier eliminated them in the Telkom Knockout semifinals in November.

What the coach did not add was that Chiefs also‚ on this particular night‚ did not have the confidence nor the intensity required of a team aiming to win the championship.

There has always been the potential in Chiefs’ remarkable run, with a clear gap at the top of the log, that if a team behind them — such as defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns — hit form, it will put the pressure on an inexperienced squad.

Some confirmation of that came on Saturday against Maritzburg when Chiefs appeared to be rattled by Sundowns’ earlier 3-0 win over Chippa United. Chiefs produced chances against Maritzburg, but these seemed to be in an overcautious manner‚ and they were then nervous in using them.

Lebohang Manyama’s 64th-minute miss in front of goal was notable‚ as a minute later goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi spilled a cross‚ leading to Daylon Claasen’s opener for United. With Chiefs reeling, Claasen headed in a second goal two minutes later.

Amakhosi pulled one back 10 minutes later‚ Samir Nurkovic heading in Manyama’s corner. The intensity Chiefs displayed after going two goals down  was what they needed earlier in the game.

“It’s definitely difficult to process this result‚” Middendorp admitted. “At half-time we had 13 goal attempts to zero‚ two excellent shots [early in the second half]‚ and nothing that comes from it. And all of a sudden you are 2-0 down after you had opportunities to be far ahead.

“If I take just the huge opportunity [for Manyama]‚ and probably it was too casual‚ one against one with the goalkeeper from three or four metres out.

“The rest of the defence was good. We had not allowed the countermoments as we had in the [Telkom] semifinal or [the league game] in December. We had it quite organised in terms of our attacking movement going forward. I think it was around 22 shots to two.

“The transitions from attack to defence or defence to attack could have been a bit more paced.

“But it was not a game where we said ‘poor performance’. Definitely not,” said Middendorp. “Unfortunately‚ we seem to have it against this team [Maritzburg]. The first goal in the semifinal was from a huge mistake and the goal in December came from a huge mistake.”

Saturday’s game leaves question marks for Chiefs. They rely too much on set-pieces for goals‚ which makes them one-dimensional. And goalkeeper Akpeyi‚ despite his form‚ has this ability to make a game-costing mistake.

Itumeleng Khune returned from injury in Chiefs’ 1-0 Nedbank Cup win against Royal Eagles in their previous game. He was not tested much‚ but a trademark distribution ball led to Amakhosi’s goal. Khune at times carried Amakhosi as a near one-man show before his injury setbacks over the past two seasons.

Chiefs are, after four seasons without a trophy, inexperienced at closing out opportunities at silverware. That factor‚ increased by the pressure to reverse their barren spell‚ has shown in cup finals and semifinals.

Will it be their downfall trying to clinch what always has seemed an unlikely league title in their 50th anniversary season?