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Mentality? Naivety? Structure? Why Chiefs Can't Hold On

As Eddie Ngalo side-footed home in the dying moments of last night’s encounter with Kaizer Chiefs, one can only imagine what was going through Steve Komphela’s head.

For the sixth time in the Absa Premiership this season the Amakhosi were dropping points from a winning position, dropping more points as their already slim hopes of retaining the league title were all but extinguished.

Aside from the pressure that naturally comes with being the head coach of a team like Kaizer Chiefs, the club currently find themselves in a serious rut having failed to win seven of the last games that they have played, dropping to fourth in the table as they did so.

While Komphela will have been happy to bring to an end a 450-minute run without scoring a single goal, the late equaliser will have been a real kick in the teeth for the former Maritzburg United man as Chiefs slumped to their 10th draw of the season. More, by the way, than any other team.

Frustrating? Definitely. Unlucky? Maybe. Surprising? I’m not so sure. Chiefs’ inability to hold onto the lead this season – something that has cost them a whopping 13 points – could be attributed to many things.

Poor mentality, low concentration levels, and/or tactical naivety could come into it, but a lack of consistency in the club’s backline could be the most important factor. Chiefs have used 12 different back fours in 24 games this season, and their last eight games in the Absa Premiership have seen a different back line every single game.

What does this mean? It means that – unlike last term – the club’s defensive line is having to constantly adapt to how they play. Last season, when Chiefs had the best defence in the league, both Tefu Mashamaite and Siboniso Gaxa played every match. Tsepo Masilela missed just two games and Erick Mathoho was absent for only five. They were consistent, they were a unit, they were hard to score past.

As Gavin Hunt famously said once, ‘Strikers win you games, defenders win you titles’, and for Chiefs it doesn’t seem like they know which defence they actually want.

With six games left to play this season the Glamour Boys have already conceded eight more goals (22) than the entire 2014/15 campaign (14), using 10 different defenders, and have seen their title chances go up in flames. As good as Sundowns and Wits have performed, Chiefs have been their own worst enemies.

Another important factor to take into account is Komphela’s tactics going into the business end of games. Last night, at 2-1 up, he chose to bring on Pule Ekstein, an attack-minded player with only 300 minutes to his name this season. While the mindset of going for the jugular is admirable, when you’re on a long winless run is it really the right idea?

Under Stuart Baxter last season, during the 45 games that they played, Chiefs won every single match in which they took the lead. They didn’t drop a single point from a winning position, and that – ultimately – is probably what won them the title.

It will come as no surprise when I say that – this season – Sundowns have won every league match that they have taken the lead in, while Wits have won all but one of the matches in which they have scored first. 

Last night Komphela had Lorenzo Gordinho, who has been arguably the club’s best performer this season, on his bench. At 2-1, with 15 minutes to go, would it have been such a bad idea to bring him on, protect the lead and get the three points? If we asked Stuart Baxter I’m pretty sure we could guess what he’d say.

Komphela seems to be trying to please everyone – the players, the fans, the management – and in doing so is ultimately pleasing nobody. He was hired by Chiefs because they believed in his abilities, maybe he should believe in himself a little bit more and forget trying to make others happy.

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