The fixture that has created drama in all of our lives for the past fortnight is done and dusted. I am not sure if the AjaxCT management would have been more nervous watching the tension on the field or the behaviour in the stands. These should be the fixtures we all look forward to, but for many of us we will just be glad it is finally all over. It was another day of shame for the local game with the Celtic and Platinum Stars game help up by crowd disturbances and fans at Loftus reporting ticketless Sundowns fans breaking down the stadium gates to gain entry. The well documented well documented build up to this game left many of us fearing the worst, while at the same time understanding that the decision to play the game in the city was in the best interest of the players
To avoid the potential crush at the turnstiles, ensure safe parking and actually be able to sit on the seat they had purchased a ticket for, many AjaxCT supporters were inside the ground almost two hours prior to kick-off. That is a drastic measure to take because, apart from wiping the bird droppings off your seat, there is little or nothing to keep you entertained pre-match in Athlone Stadium. In the event, apart from a bizarre attempt by Chiefs fans to push onto the pitch from a mostly empty section of stand during half time, it all passed off with little drama.
Which allowed us all to focus on the action actually happening on the pitch for a change.
It seemed that AjaxCT had a plan to approach the game in a similar manner to the way they took on and beat Sundowns before Christmas. That result and performance still remains the standard by which to measure the season. This time it was a harder ask without suspended captain Travis Graham and injured defender Rivaldo Coetzee. Still the team stuck to the task of pressing their opponents as high up the pitch as possible and keeping a tight zonal defence, in which captain for the day Mosa Lebusa was outstanding. The aim was clearly to frustrate Chiefs and hit them on the break when the occasion arose. It was not always pretty, but it was largely effective. When Nathan Paulse buried Mosadi’s excellent cross, even with over half an hour to go, it felt likely that the AjaxCT game plan would still work. In fact with Chiefs momentarily rattled, Mzwakali’s header that hit the crossbar a minute or so later could have killed the game off.
While a point may be considered a good return against a side of this quality, the softness of the equalizing goal will leave everyone wondering what if. The defence seemed to switch off at a set piece, perhaps because there was some confusion over a Chiefs substitution that was changed at the last moment. When the ball was whipped in Daniel Cardoso lost his man and easily beat Jody February to the ball. A simple goal and yet another game without a clean sheet. Our young goalkeeper, who was in such fine form before the break, is now struggling and must take the blame for many of the goals conceded since the PSL started up again. There were nervous moments when almost any ball came into the box during the final moments and perhaps he would benefit from a break from the first team. With a coach who has previously been a goalkeeper in a World Cup squad we have an excellent man to make that call.
Lebusa rightly got man of the match, but credit must go to all of the defence who remained resolute and well organised throughout. A shout out is also due to both Mosadi and Mzwakali whose pace and creativity genuinely troubled Chiefs. The Chiefs game always seems a good fixture to throw Bantu into. He has spent his entire AjaxCT career talking about how much he would like to play for them, so this was a chance to shine. Like Khama Billiiat when he wore an AjaxCT shirt, he saves his best performances for games of this profile. His replacement by Erwin Isaacs was probably the coach’s most negative moment of the night, as he clearly attempted to hold the lead rather than push on for a second. Ndiviwe Mdabuka also had a decent game after having to step up and take charge in midfield without his usual partner and captain alongside him. If only he could have capped it with a better finish when presented with that opportunity in the final minute.
So another point, and probably one that most supporters would have taken before the game. It is always a little frustrating when you are pulled back from a winning position in such circumstances. We know we gave them a soft equalizer and did not really make them work hard enough for their goal. But, you have to think this was a game we would have lost if it had been played in Durban. Despite the slow start to the second half of the season there is enough in this side to believe a top half finish remains a realistic aim.