Derby: Why this one really matters

Something has to give this weekend as the forces of history and recent form go head-to-head at the FNB Stadium.

Despite Pirates having had the better of Chiefs in their recent encounters, Chiefs’ faithful can draw solace from their returning coach’s impressive record against Bucs.

During Ernst Middendorp’s tenure as Chiefs mentor between 2005 and midway through the 2006-2007 season, he achieved four straight victories against Pirates in both cup and league matches.

The first two wins were league victories, and they came within just two months of each other — a 2-0 win on October 23 2005 at the FNB Stadium, followed by a 1-0 victory at the same venue on December 10.

Chiefs’ good run against Pirates under the German would continue and stretch over to cup games, after Amakhosi’s 5-3 penalty kick victory in the Absa Cup final at the Kings Park Stadium in Durban in May 2006.

Two months later, the Glamour Boys recorded their fourth straight victory against the Buccaneers, with a 2-0 victory in the Vodacom Challenge match at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg on July 20.

In those games, Pirates were coached by Serbian mentor Kostadin Papic, and later, their former midfielder Teboho Moloi, before current coach Milutin “Micho” Sredojevic took the helm. As with Middendorp at Chiefs, Micho is also in his second stint at Pirates, having first taken over the reins from caretaker coach Moloi midway through the 2006-2007 season.

READ MORE: It’s do or die for Chiefs’ keeper Vries ahead of Soweto derby

Football history has shown that past records have a way of influencing future results. In this case, it will be a battle between Middendorp’s superior run against Pirates as a Chiefs coach, against Pirates’ unbeaten record against Chiefs in their past 11 games.

This game will also place the spotlight on the FNB Stadium, which is becoming a hoodoo venue for Amakhosi.

Possibly Chiefs’ biggest enemy heading into Saturday is the fact that the FNB Stadium has shown them little love of late. Call it choking, a curse or homefield disadvantage, this team doesn’t know how to get the job done at their Nasrec base.

Alarmingly, you’d have to go back to November 7 for the last time they tasted victory there in any competition — a relatively easy game against the struggling Black Leopards.That’s three months worth of disappointment.

What’s particularly needling for the Sowetans is that they seem to be doing just fine in their other “home” games; they’ve won at Mbombela and Port Elizabeth in that same time period. (Although, to be fair, Pirates left Moses Mabhida Stadium victorious after the derby in the Telkom Knockout semifinals.)

It’s a situation that’s untenable. The ground developed a hostile atmosphere after the final whistle condemned Chiefs to a 1-0 defeat to Cape Town City last Wednesday. What were jovial stands turned to angry faces; fans were determined to vent their anger in the direction of anyone who would listen.

Even during the game, the supporters’ frustration bled on to the pitch. Every Khama Billiat misfire was greeted with louder ridicule until his willingness to find space evaporated. 

Khama BilliatSimilarly, his teammates, faced with the prospect of disappointing their supporters, seemed to be stuck in the headlights, too scared to force the ball lest they face a flurry of vitriol.

How can the situation not play on the minds of the players? Lining up against the Buccaneers, the last thing Middendorp would want is the fear of their own fans lurking in the back of their minds. The derby is pressure enough without the additional threat of a loss factored in.

As it is, the field favoured Pirates even before that three-month stretch. In March, Steve Komphela’s reign began to crumble as Micho briefly threatened to challenge for the title and surged to a 3-1 win. Giovanni Solinas could barely do better as his team faded in the last 20 minutes and ultimately fell 2-1.

It all forms part of an unflattering 10-game stretch during which Amakhosi won only once in the fixture — a 2015 Telkom Knockout game on penalties.

They are desperate for a win and have surely grown tired of everyone continually asking when the losing streak will be snapped. Perhaps the Middendorp effect will be enough to bring victory and give those south of Jo’burg something to cheer about.

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Siyabonga Ngcangisa
Siyabonga Ngcangisa
Siya co-presented at South Africa’s third largest radio station Umhlobo Wenene FM and has worked for publications such as Move! Magazine and DRUM Magzine.
Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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