For this game, Chiefs reverted to a 3-5-2 formation, using Teenage Hadebe and Kgotso Moleko on the sides of the back three.
Hendrick Ekstein was back in midfield after two games in the stands over a contract dispute, whilst Andriamirado Andrianarimanana was preferred to Willard Katsande.
In attack, Bernard Parker was Khama Billiat’s partner with Leonardo Castro left on the bench.
For Cape Town City, it was the usual defensive selection with Edmilson Dove in the heart of the back four alongside Taariq Fielies.
In front of the defence, Zukile Kewuti came in for number ten, Christofer David to allow Teko Modise to move further forward.
The veteran was not trusted to protect the defence, but his passing range was required.
In attack, Kermit Erasmus got the nod with Siphelele Mthembu left on the bench.
Chiefs Dominate Midfield
Right from the start of the game, Chiefs were on top in midfield.
With the energy of Ekstein and Andriamirado alongside George Maluleka, Amakhosi allowed no time and space for City to play through central areas.
Early on, Maluleka counter-pressed on the edge of City’s box and tested Peter Leeuwenburgh with a strike.
Ekstein set up Billiat for a decent opening not long afterward and Andriamirado picked up a second ball and shot wide.
Whenever Chiefs crossed the ball or went direct from the back using Daniel Cardoso’s passing range, their midfield swarmed on any second balls.
City’s plan to find Modise between-the-lines to release their pacy wingers and striker Erasmus only brought joy in flashes as Chiefs aggressively defended the middle of the pitch.
They were also happy to make small fouls on defensive transitions to break up play.
The trio also did a good job of not leaving their wingbacks with a two-v-one on many occasions.
Erasmus Moves – little box presence
Whenever City did build wide attacks – their most promising avenue to goal against a narrow Chiefs setup – they lacked genuine box presence.
Erasmus favoured working the left channel, often pulling Cardoso very wide with Moleko concerned with City’s left winger, but only Kewuti took the initiative to arrive in the box.
Immediately prior to Chiefs taking the lead, a cross from Ralani deflected to Kewuti on the back post, but the ball was behind him and he could not divert a header at goal.
Not long after that, Dove was without any forward-running options (this time, Erasmus was stationary in a central position and did not provide an out-ball) and panicked in a build-up. Billiat and Parker seized the moment and combined to set up an easy finish for Ekstein.
That strike was the 28-year-old’s fifth goal of the season, with all of them being assisted by Parker.
With three assists too, this is Ekstein’s most productive season in a Chiefs shirt.
Chiefs' Chances Spurned
As the half went on, so Parker and Billiat found more space to exploit. The front pairing were playing as “split strikers”, meaning they each played between a full-back and centre-back, forcing the City defence to spread out and leave gaps.
If City’s full-backs tried to engage Chiefs’ wingbacks, it would leave their centre-backs exposed.
If Thamsanga Mkhize stayed narrow, it left Chiefs’ wingback, Siphosakhe Ntiya-Ntiya to raid up the left. Whatever he did, Chiefs created chances.
In the space of three frantic minutes, three big opportunities to go in 2-0 in front were missed.
First, Billiat disposed Dove in the box but fired over. Then, Seedat was bypassed easily and Billiat squared for Ntiya-Ntiya to strike the post.
Finally, Ntiya-Ntiya headed a deep cross down to Ekstein who lashed wide.
Would Chiefs come to regret their wasteful finishing, and could Benni McCarthy inspire his team to another second-half comeback?
Ernst Closes Channels
Despite Chiefs’ excellent first half, Ernst Middendorp made a change at the break.
He was clearly worried about how often Erasmus and City’s wingers, Riyaad Norodien and Bradley Ralani, were pulling his central defenders into wide areas.
The solution was to move to a back four and remove Ramahlwe Mphahlele for winger Dumisani Zuma.
The latter stationed himself on the right with Parker moving to a left-winger role and Billiat playing as the lone striker.
Very simply, with City’s front-three all staying high up, Middendorp wanted four men at the back to have one spare player.
Kewuti Close Before Zuma Pounces
City started the second half fairly well as Ralani got some joy running at Moleko on the left side. This drew a corner and then set up City’s best opening of the game. With Hadebe not defending the back post anymore, Kewuti got himself isolated against the shorter Ntiya-Ntiya and headed Ralani’s cross against the upright.
This roused Chiefs into action and after Parker chopped inside Fielies and forced Dove into a last-gasp block, they took a 2-0 lead from the corner.
Hadebe rose highest to head Parker’s delivery down for Zuma to finish.
Benni’s Benign Changes
At 2-0 down, City were expected to introduce target man, Mthembu as a partner for Erasmus.
Speed merchant, Craig Martin was also on the bench to give fresh impetus to the attack.
However, both players remained unused.
The first change by the coach was David replacing the ineffective Modise, before Gift Links replaced Norodien.
Later on, he took off Ebrahim Seedat for Keanu Cupido.
None of these alterations asked any new questions of Middendorp.
David did create City’s one good chance as he picked out Erasmus’ excellent movement to lose Cardoso, before Ralani released Links to force Bvuma into a good save.
Chiefs had all of the second half’s other good chances as Billiat wasted a counter-attack before having to be stretchered off injured.
Ntiya-Ntiya missed his second clear opening of the game too as he raced onto Ekstein’s perfect pass.
With City now leaving huge gaps, Chiefs should really have killed the game.
Where their substitutions were concerned, it was Ryan Moon for Billiat and then Castro on for an outstanding Ekstein with seven minutes to go.
The coach had learnt from defensive substitutions backfiring in other big games and instead retained attacking threat.
This was a completely deserved win for Chiefs who dominated the midfield thanks to the energy and pressing of the returning Ekstein and Andriamirado.
City had little idea how to deal with the Chiefs’ wingbacks and did not make much of the space afforded to them in the channels.
When Middendorp saw a potential weakness for the second half, he immediately acted.
This proactive coaching has added a different dimension to Chiefs and makes them a very difficult side to play against.
City simply did not show up for this game and the selection of Modise as a number ten gave the side too little attacking threat and no box presence.
At 1-0 and 2-0 down, their changes did little to turn the game and they seemed to accept their fate.