Kaizer Chiefs saw their momentum in the Absa Premiership slowed by a 1-1 draw away to Black Leopards at the Thohoyandou Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Amakhosi remain well in charge at the top of the log – 10 points clear of nearest chasers Mamelodi Sundowns, having played a game more – but coach Ernst Middendorp will be concerned with a sluggish performance against a Lidoda Duvha team which only rose out of the relegation zone on goal difference thanks to the result.
Chiefs enjoyed early dominance and claimed the lead in just the 11th minute. Lebogang Manyama’s corner kick found Samir Nurkovic unmarked and the striker netted his 10th league goal of the season with a glancing header.
Leopards gradually settled into the game and began exerting pressure on the visitors, before claiming a deserved equaliser in the 32nd minute: a foul on the edge of the Chiefs penalty area allowed Mogakolodi Ngele to step up and fire home a beautiful effort direct from a free kick to make it 1-1.
Lidoda Duvha went on to test goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi several more times through the remainder of the first half, but the interval arrive the teams locked at one goal apiece. The hosts also suffered a blow late in the first stanza when they were forced to withdraw Ngele due to injury – Joseph Mhlongo rose off the bench to replace him.
Chiefs made a tactical change at the start of the second half, withdrawing defender Yagan Sasman to replace him with midfielder Kearyn Baccus in an effort to take more control in the middle of the park.
The Amakhosi succeeded in easing the pressure Leopards had built up, though they struggled to create scoring chances of their own, with the likes of Nurkovic and Leonardo Castro left to feed off scraps in the final third of the field.
Both sides made attacking changes in the final quarter of the match, with Chiefs putting on Dumisani Zuma and Leopards introducing Lesedi Kapinga, though neither was able to really influence the game and inspire a late goal.
The closest either side came was in injury time when the Amakhosi’s Manyama played a one-two on the edge of the box and then saw his effort deflected just wide of the Leopards goal posts, leaving the game to finish all square.
The teams will return to Premiership action next weekend, with Leopards away to Cape Town City on the evening of Friday 24 January and Chiefs visiting Golden Arrows the following day.
Black Leopards (1) 1 (Ngele 32’)
Kaizer Chiefs (1) 1 (Nurkovic 11’)
Leopards: Mendes, Mudau, Masia, Gyimah, Zulu, Matlaba, Ngambi (Kapinga 74’), Abubakar, Bereng, Ngele (Mhlongo 44’), Musonda (Mncwango 85’)
Chiefs: Akpeyi, Moleko, Cardoso, Mathoho, Ntiya-Ntiya, Sasman (Baccus 46’), Katsande, Manyama, Parker (Zuma 70’), Castro, Nurkovic