Baxter relents, acknowledges race for league title is all but over

As Kaizer Chiefs’ trophy drought extends to seven seasons, coach Stuart Baxter acknowledges finishing second behind run-away Premiership log leaders and defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns and qualifying for the CAF Champions League for the second season in a row, is beyond them.

Chiefs exited the MTN8 in the first round following a 2-1 penalty shootout defeat inflicted by eventual winners Masandawana in October last year, thanks to Downs’ four spot-kick saves, deemed controversial in some quarters by Zambian goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene. Disappointing enough.

Disheartening further for the Chiefs faithful, who swear by the club’s gold and black colours, was being knocked out of the Nedbank Cup by the same TS Galaxy responsible for denying them the same silverware three seasons ago. The Rockets were in the lower rung National First Division at the time.

Now for the league. As recent as February, Baxter was buoyant, telling all who cared to listen he doesn’t intend throwing in the towel yet, and was hell-bent on challenging Downs for league honours.

The Glamour Boys are perched in third place behind The Brazilians and MaMkhize’s Royal AM while they share the same number of points, 39, with Orlando Pirates, fourth and Cape Town City in fifth, before this weekend’s matches.

But this week Baxter, whose team selection has come under the spotlight from Amakhosi supporters, sang a different tune. He told a virtual media briefing as they prepared for last night’s clash with troubled SuperSport United, who fired long-serving coach Kaitano Tembo a few days ago, the race for the league title was all but over.

Also under heavy scrutiny is his philosophy of not giving the youngsters a run for 90 minutes as was the case under his predecessor, coach Gavin Hunt, sacked in the main for his failure to bring Premiership trophy home and, most significantly, the team’s long spells of courting with relegation last season.

Baxter defended himself, telling members of the football Fourth Estate that his philosophy is to play the youngsters alongside more experienced players.

However, the fans don’t want to hear none of it. They implore him to give the likes of defensive-midfielder Njabulo Blom, centre-back Siyabonga Ngezana, defensive-midfielder Happy Mashiane, attacking midfielder Nkosingiphile Ngcobo and midfielder Sabelo Radebe, more playtime as some were remarkably unstoppable under Hunt.

The fans argue these players were on the verge of making an impact until the departure of Hunt, who was a firm believer in young talent and had promoted most of them from the reserve side.

But once again tactically, it was Baxter’s transitional play that turned the Naturena-based side into a force to be reckoned with during his first stint at the helm between 2012 and 2015.

Now in this second bite of the Chiefs cherry, Baxter blames his team’s effective transitional play being the focus of their opponents who have capitalised on this by playing long balls during match situations, leaving them vulnerable in their attempt to counter the long balls.

Baxter also believes Chiefs’ spacing and finding the balance between defence and attack has been a problem, especially at the start of the current PSL

On another front, the Glamour Boys’ English mentor conceded he was not a fan of social media simply because some of the comments are ill-informed.

And most significantly, he implores his players to use platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram with caution, more so in relation to their performances on the field of play and private lives, as these can destroy players, especially the youngsters. I concur.

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