Ekstein has enjoyed a substantial rise since the arrival of Middendorp in December, having started eight of Chiefs’ last 11 matches while also contributing three goals – equalling his tally over the course of the last two seasons.
However, the attacker – playing alongside George Maluleka in the central midfield, rather cheaply gave the ball away that ultimately led to Orlando Pirates finding the equaliser in the 80thminute.
He was guilty of a similar offence in Amakhosi’s CAF Confederation Cup second leg 2-1 defeat at home to ZESCO United a few weeks earlier, but Middendorp refused to cast responsibility on the 28-year-old.
“Hendrick is an outstanding player. He’s not a youngster anymore – he’s 28 if I’m not mistaken, and this is definitely somebody who can carry a team with his ideas and the stuff he’s regularly doing,” said Middendorp in Ekstein’s defence.
“But it [mistakes] happens, unfortunately. What could we do? We could have corrected it, and that’s part of the team’s work – we could have closed the space and be a bit more alert and nothing would have happened.
“It’s unfortunate that it happened but, for me, he’s an outstanding player and one of the best I’ve ever worked with.”