Chiefs crowned champions

Posted by Firdose Moonda

Carl Fourie/Gallo Images/Getty ImageThe play of Itumeleng Khune in net for Kaizer Chiefs helped point the way to a South African league title.

Soweto will sing again. For the second year in succession, a club from their quarters have been crowned South African champions. Kaizer Chiefs will take the trophy off Orlando Pirates after securing the league title with a draw against SuperSport United last night.

It's the first time Chiefs have ascended to the top in eight seasons, having last tasted league success in the 2004-05 season and their first piece of silverware since 2008. Interestingly, they got there under a man few thought could achieve league glory, Stuart Baxter.

The Scottish manager was widely snubbed by supporters when he as unveiled a year ago. His chief crime was being an underachiever. In his time with the national team all he managed was failure to qualify for the 2006 World Cup.

The only notable honour on his CV was winning the Japanese J League with Vissel Kobe, but it was later revealed the team had in fact finished third in the league. Baxter brushed that off when he arrived, saying he knew what he had achieved and did not need people to prove what he had done.

Still, it was not expected that he would get very far, never mind as far as the summit and into the Nedbank Cup (this country's version of the FA Cup) final. But he has and Chiefs have benefitted from his hard-working approach and focus on consistency, something the team have displayed exceptionally this season.

When they opened their league campaign with a 6-0 hammering of AmaZulu, it was a sign of intent but at the time, it was seen as an isolated big win. By October, they had collected 10 points but still were starting to look strong.

Even though Chiefs drew against some of their less glamorous opposition -- Bloemfontein Celtic, Free State Stars and Maritzburg United -- they had not lost a single match. Their first defeat only came the following month at the hands of Platinum Stars who continued to challenge them for the remainder of the season.

December brought two wins and two draws before the league took a lengthy break for the African Nations' Cup with Chiefs at the top of the table. On their return, they had not lost any momentum and consolidated their position with wins over Free State and Black Leopards.

Their home record was unblemished and their away record began improving in 2012. In March, they had won six out of their 11 away games and held their arch-rivals Orlando Pirates to draws on both occasions they met.

In what can be called a final summing up of ability, Chiefs also demonstrated they could bounce back. From losing positions against Maritzburg United and Moroka Swallows, they surged back to draw in the first instance and win in the second.

On May 1, Chiefs could have wrapped up the title against a struggling Ajax Cape Town side but they were stunned by their old manager, Mushin Ertugral, who had taken over at the Cape club. Ertugral watched his side storm to a 3-1 victory and Chiefs had to wait another a day, or 14, to seal victory. In that time both Platinum Stars and Orlando Pirates lost, leaving Chiefs with only a point to get from two matches.

Chiefs looked certain to seal the deal in style when they led against SuperSport United but the former champions equalised three minutes from time to put a small damper on proceedings in Polokwane. Still, the point they needed was the point they got and Chiefs celebrated title glory with a game left to play.

Baxter had to watch from the VIP box. He was suspended for two matches after using abusive language towards an assistant referee in a Nedbank Cup game so Doctor Khumalo was put in charge of Chiefs for the end of their league season. However, Baxter will not be denied the credit he deserves for the changes he has overseen that led to Chiefs success.

He has gotten the best out of Reneilwe Letsholonyane because he has allowed him more freedom to attack in the deep midfield area. Williard Katsande has also had a key role to play in unburdening Letsholonyane and allowing him to feed more balls through to their powerful strike force.

Bernard Parker, Lehlohonolo Majoro and Kingston Nkatha left Baxter spoilt for choice upfront. Parker is the league's second highest scorer with 12 goals while Majoro is not far behind with nine. They are both crucial to Bafana Bafana’s success and their goal-scoring form over this season can only bode well for the national team.

The best news is that Baxter is not done here. He has spoken about resurrecting Chief's academy and youth structures and working on building a culture that can last for longer than he does. This could be the start of that journey.


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