Nowhere to Hide for Billiat

It’s a name which just can’t stop featuring, in the race for the South African Premiership title — whether he is on the field or sitting on the bench.

For 45 minutes yesterday, the Zimbabwe international forward, was not part of the top-of-the-table blockbuster showdown between Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns at Orlando Stadium in Johannesburg.

The Warriors star, who has been struggling to produce the form, which transformed him into a superstar in Supa Diski, was pushed to the bench by Amakhosi coach, Ernst Middendorp, for the massive clash against the defending champions.

The German gaffer had been forced to pull out Billiat, after 45 minutes, in the club’s last game in which Zambian forward, Lazarous Kambole, rose from the bench to grab the equaliser against Stellenbosch.

Middendorp rewarded Kambole, with a place in the starting XI, but the Zambian international forward — whose goal against Stellenbosch was his first of the season — struggled badly against the Brazilians yesterday.

That the German coach didn’t field Billiat, even after Leonardo Castro pulled out of warm-up with an injury, which ruled him out for the rest of the season, and with leading goalscorer Samir Nurkovic unavailable, was a huge statement.

It told the story of how much Middendorp appear to have lost faith in the Warriors talisman who has scored just one league goal all season.

With that goal, coming in September last year, it means Billiat hasn’t scored for Chiefs in an entire year.

And, now, he can’t even make the starting XI even when the likes of Castro are not available.

“(Castro) is nursing a hamstring strain,” the club said on their website.

“He has since left the bubble and will not take part in the remaining matches of the current season.”

Middendorp even had the audacity to hand Keletso Sifana his first cap for the Amakhosi and the wingback, at 17 years, became the youngest player to feature for Chiefs in their 50-year history.

But, even without being involved in action, as was the case in the first 45 minutes yesterday, it’s difficult to keep Billiat out of the narrative.

And, that was the case, with the SuperSport TV commentators, Mark Gleeson, and Brian Mathe, plucking him from the bench, and into the heart of the story, as the Amakhosi struggled to break the champions defence.

“Admittedly, Khama Billiat has had a poor season by the standards he set previously,” said Gleeson, during the commentary, after Sundowns had taken the lead.

“Just one goal, and that was scored in September but, if ever there was a game that might just have his competitive juices flowing, it’s the opportunity against his old teammates.

“You wanna throw him in here, certainly for a half.

“Maybe, by keeping him on the bench, the idea is that it also motivates him in a way, it also makes him angry, gets him geared up.

“Maybe, that’s what the coach was thinking, in terms of putting him on the bench, and then bring him on as a much more effective impact player.

“It’s the things the coaches have to ponder when they make the team selection, it’s not as easy as scrolling a pen on a piece of paper and picking who you want to play, with so much at stake here, though, as well.”

Gleeson, one of African football’s most revered analysts, wondered if, this was a gamble, it would pay off for both the Amakhosi and Billiat.

“You wonder if the 45 minutes on the bench, having been left out of the starting line-up, will be the tonic which Khama Billiat needs to get his season back on track.”

And, Gleeson’s fellow commentator, Mathe, agreed.

“But, you also look at what is at stake in this game,” he said. “You need a personality, good character, you need a Khama Billiat because with

Bernard Parker on the left hand side, and he is also struggling from time to time.

“Khama Billiat, for this type of occasion, I agree with you, an opportunity to play against your former employers (is what he needs).”

And, as if on cue, Middendorp threw Billiat into the fold, at the start of the second half, while pulling out former Warriors skipper, Willard Katsande, as he searched for goals.

However, although Chiefs improved, in the second period, they still lacked the rhythm and quality which, at one point, saw them open a 10-point lead at the top of the table.

Billiat had the best of their final chances, when he got to the end of a lovely ball floated into box by Parker but he directed his free header over the bar.

Of those who featured yesterday, in attack, Kambole has one league goal this season, the same as Billiat, while Parker is yet to score for the Amakhosi.

The lack of confidence, in the attack, was shown by Parker, in the 14th minute, when he was put through on goal but, rather than try his luck, he decided to push the ball into the path of Kambole and the chance was lost.

There are three games left for both teams but it’s Sundowns, who have clawed their way from a 10-point deficit to catch up with Chiefs, who now have the momentum.

The Amakhosi now just lead the race by virtue of a superior goal difference.

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