South African football’s most eagerly anticipated fixture once again saw fans come in their numbers to the FNB Stadium as both Chiefs and Pirates were determined to keep their league title aspirations alive.
Both clubs headed into the game having blown hot and cold of late, but Pirates, in particular, knew that three points would go a long way in seeing them narrow the gap on log leaders Bidvest Wits.
On the other hand, Chiefs were keen on ending their rivals’ dominance over them as they last beat Pirates in December 2014.
With Chiefs coach Ernst Middendorp set for his first Derby since re-joining the club, he was looking to do what none of his two predecessors were able to achieve, and he named a strong squad with a few surprises.
With Virgil Vries coming under much scrutiny due to his costly errors in recent games, new signing Daniel Akpeyi made his debut, while Willard Katsande settled for a place on the bench as George Maluleka ran the show in midfield alongside Hendrick Ekstein.
This added attacking impetus saw Chiefs start off brightly, and Billiat who led the club’s goalscoring ranks in the league prior to kick-off with four goals, was the first to test Wayne Sandilands with a solid strike that was parried out for a corner.
Meanwhile, Pirates relied on the attacking trio of Thembinkosi Lorch, Justin Shonga and top scorer Vincent Pule upfront. The trio had accumulated an impressive 13 goals between them this season, but they were kept quiet during the opening stages.
But when Pirates finally had a sniff at goal as a brilliant breakaway move set up Ben Motshwari inside the area, they were unable to find the back of the net as his shot was superbly blocked by Teenage Hadebe, before Xola Mlambo’s follow-up effort flew well off target.
At the other end, Pirates were almost handed an early blow after Sandilands appeared to have suffered a hefty knock, but the veteran keeper was still able to step up and keep out Bernard Parker’s left-footed strike from outside the box.
While the first half entertained the capacity crowd in patches, both sides were cancelling each other out in the middle of the park which saw the fluency and tempo drop as the match grew old.
Chiefs have been known to up the ante between minutes 30-45 having previously netted 26.1% of their goals between that period, and while Middendorp’s men pushed in search of a goal before the break, it was not to be as they headed into the dressing rooms locked at 0-0.
With the stakes so high, it didn’t take too long for Middendorp to pull the trigger at half-time as he withdrew Happy Mashiane for Philani Zulu.
The German-born mentor was hoping that the substitute full-back would add a little more going forward as Mashiane struggled in what was just his third senior appearance.
However, the two sides’ decision making was letting them down which frustrated both coaches. Parker though looked lively for Chiefs and he watched his thunderous strike from range go agonizingly wide of Sandilands' goal.
Chiefs grew in confidence, and they were eventually rewarded for their perseverance after Billiat showed great tenacity as he was eventually brought down by Asavela Mbekile inside the box. Cardoso stepped up and expertly put the ball beyond the Pirates keeper.
The goal meant that Pirates’ defensive woes would continue as they have only kept four clean sheets all season.
Minutes later, Chiefs almost doubled their advantage when Parker played a sumptuous ball into the path of Billiat but the Zimbabwean could not get his shot on target.
Pirates needed a response and they looked to Augustine Mulenga, who has been their number one playmaker having contributed six assists this season and came on for Musa Nyatama.
The Zambian’s introduction immediately injected new life into the Pirates attack and he was very much involved in Pirates’ first effort on target with less than 20 minutes remaining.
Pirates looked to pounce as Chiefs began to sit back, and with 10 minutes to go, the equalizer finally came as Lorch showed great composure after being superbly played through on goal courtesy of a defence-splitting pass by Motshwari.
Nonetheless, try as Chiefs did to find the all-important goal, it was not to be as Sandilands and his defence stood tall in the dying embers of the game.