I did mention a couple of weeks ago in this very editorial that I felt Daniel Akpeyi had to keep his place in the Kaizer Chiefs team for the Soweto derby against Orlando Pirates.
Yet I must also admit that I didn’t expect Akpeyi to produce a performance quite as extraordinary, even super-human, as he did against the Buccaneers on Saturday, helping Amakhosi seal a vital 1-0 win.
I found myself audibly gasping for breath at some of the saves the Nigerian made at FNB Stadium, at times a one-man wall between Pirates and a seventh league victory on the spin. The first stop was slightly accidental, as his head impeded Gabadinho Mhango’s point blank effort in the first half, though Akpeyi does deserve praise for making himself as tall as possible in the presence of the Malawian striker.
In the second half, Akpeyi turned on the style, making a stunning triple save and then somehow turning Thembinkosi Lorch’s shot over the bar.
Whether the Super Eagles goalkeeper’s collapsing to the turf towards the end was from the Itumeleng Khune School of Gamesmanship or down to a genuine injury, there was certainly reason to believe it was the latter, so gallantly had Akpeyi thrown himself around for the cause. There is no better way to change the mind of a sceptical Kaizer Chiefs fan than to give this kind of performance in a derby, and there must have been plenty of Amakhosi supporters eating their words, having called for Akpeyi to be dropped, and Khune restored, following one error made by the Nigerian in Chiefs’ previous league game against Maritzburg United.
Akpeyi does seem to be a goalkeeper that inspires plenty of vitriol, whether in the shirt of the Nigerian national team, or in the black and gold of Amakhosi.
And he can be a little error-prone, but he still has qualities that have led plenty of Super Eagles coaches to see him as their number one, and for Chiefs head Ernst Middendorp to continuously back him this season.
Signed from Chippa United in January 2019, Akpeyi was rightly rewarded with a contract extension by Chiefs for some brilliant displays. To Khune’s credit, he was visibly up supporting his teammate from the bench as he made a string of saves against Pirates, and was one of the first on the field after the match congratulating Akpeyi on his heroics.
It could prove an interesting dilemma for Middendorp next season, if Khune stays fit and Akpeyi continues to play like this in a Chiefs shirt.
For now, however, Akpeyi has proven just how much he deserves to be at the heart of Chiefs’ bid for the Absa Premiership title, while Khune will, unfortunately, have to carry on watching from the sidelines, following Chiefs’ Nedbank Cup exit.
I did doubt myself whether Khune could make it back from his latest injury setback, when he went off against Baroka FC last year. But, carefully managed by the Kaizer Chiefs medical team, he has shown glimpses of his best in the Nedbank games against Royal Eagles and Highlands Park. He could even force his way back into the Bafana Bafana team at some point. This, however, is Akpeyi’s moment, and boy did he grab it literally with both hands on Saturday.
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