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OPINION: Matthew Rusike not to blame for Kaizer Chiefs struggles

Posted: 18 February 2015 Time: 10:50’s Ed Dove looks at Kaizer Chiefs’ offensive struggles following their 2-0 defeat to SuperSport United in the PSL.

In truth, I was not surprised to see Kaizer Chiefs beaten 2-0 by SuperSport United on Tuesday evening to end their 24-match PSL unbeaten streak.

Having seen Amakhosi’s lethargic showing against Botswana champions Township Rollers in the CAF Champions League over the weekend, it was clear that Stuart Baxter’s side aren’t firing on all cylinders at the moment.

Despite Tefu Mashamaite’s late winner in the continental competition, I have little doubt that the criticism that followed their unconvincing weekend performance stung the Chiefs players in the build-up to their contest with SuperSport.

Chiefs’ preparations were also affected by Reneilwe Letsholonyane’s absence and the pre-match injury suffered by defender Tsepo Masilela, meaning that Baxter’s team had to switch to an unfamiliar formation with key figures being played out of position.

Rusike: The Scapegoat
While I foresaw a SuperSport victory, I did not expect Chiefs fans to turn on forward Matthew Rusike.

As Chiefs struggled, the Zimbabwean was barracked by fans and became a scapegoat for the team’s overall failings or struggles. Was he really so inferior to Bernard Parker on the day? The South Africa forward was guilty, after all, of a late miss for point-blank range which would have levelled the contest.

David Zulu, who replaced Rusike on 73 minutes, was recruited recently, but clearly hasn’t done enough to convince Baxter that he deserves a starting berth.

Similarly, George Lebese, who came on as a sub, doesn’t have the complete faith of the manager, but that’s perhaps understandable considering his recent troubles. 

More to come?
Rusike was guilty of missing several chances against Rollers at the weekend, despite scoring Chiefs’ opener, but against SuperSport I found him bright and lively – certainly looking more intense and focused than some of his teammates.

It’s important to remember, as well, that he has had his own troubles with injury and has endured a disjointed season, often struggling for match fitness.

In truth, it remains to be seen whether Rusike will ever be ‘Chiefs quality’, but I see enough in his pace, his sharpness, his work-rate and his shot to suggest that he can progress – not that that will happen if the fans remain on his back.

Rusike responded well against the Rollers when given a rare start. It was fair that Baxter kept faith with the 24-year-old and the forward surely deserves a chance to prove whether he belongs in the PSL or whether opponents from the Botswana Premier League are more his level. 

Nkhatha: Gone but not Forgotten

Another striker also received harassment from Chiefs fans during the match … SuperSport’s erstwhile- Chiefs hitman Kingston Nkhatha. Was this really deserved?

Admittedly, Nkhatha wasn’t the most prolific frontman for Amakhosi and often prompted frustration on the part of the fans, but he was always a hard-worker and an ardent front-runner.

I argued on the eve of Zulu’s unveiling for the club that while Nkhatha wasn’t always lethal in front of goal, his all-round endeavour and superb fitness can be of benefit those around him.

One can also argue that, without him, Chiefs lack a focal point to their attack.

Zulu, Rusike and Parker all have their qualities, but I prefer any of the three working off a primary target-man, rather than leading the line themselves.

When things aren’t going well, effort and energy can often paper over the cracks left by a lack of confidence or cohesion. Perhaps it was inevitable that the heckling that had affected him so much in Soweto, and become a burden during his time at Chiefs, inspired him on to a finer performance against his former club on Tuesday.

I accept that Nkhatha had his failings and missed his fair share of sitters, but the reaction of Chiefs fans to his performances hardly helped. Amakhosi supporters are in danger of forcing history to repeat itself with needless barracking of Rusike. 

By Ed Dove
Twitter: @EddyDove

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