Amakhosi had a chance to end their wait for a silverware against TS Galaxy, who aimed to become the first lower league side to win the Nedbank Cup
Kaizer Chiefs decided to leave out-of-form Ramahlwe Mphahlele on the bench and went with a back four.
In midfield, Lebogang Manyama started his first game since January and Kabelo Mahlasela also got the nod as George Maluleka was left on the bench.
In attack, Leonardo Castro was only a substitute after going more than two months without a goal.
Tshepo Chaine led the line instead.
Ten of the side which started the semi-final also started this match, with only striker Lucky Setelele missing from that clash.
GALAXY – BARCELONA OF THE NFD?
When Ernst Middendorp and his analysts were assessing Galaxy before this final, they would have seen a side very focused on ball possession and short passing.
In their semi-final win against Golden Arrows, Dan Malesela’s side had 60.2% possession away from home, looking to monopolise the ball.
However, they are a side who rarely turns their keep-ball into goal attempts.
When in charge of Chippa United, his side often topped the league’s possession charts but struggled to win games.
Under the former Orlando Pirates captain, Galaxy drew 10 and lost eight of the 27 league games he oversaw this season.
From the start of this game, Chiefs decided to press very high up the pitch off goal kicks, in an attempt to force the NFD side to play long balls.
When facing teams who play out from the back so relentlessly, you can either allow the first pass and then use pressing triggers to win the ball high up, or look to stop the short pass completely and look to win any long balls that materialise.
Chiefs went with the latter approach and it worked fairly well.
In the first 16 minutes, Galaxy played six long passes from the back despite their central defenders opening out to the sides of the box to try to get the ball.
Amakhosi’s midfield diamond meant the front two could focus on the Galaxy centre-backs, with Manyama pushing onto Sihle Nduli, the deepest of their three central midfielders.
But once Galaxy got the ball out to their full-backs, who had no direct opponents against Chiefs’ winger-less formation, they could use triangles and wall passes to the sides of Chiefs’ midfield to progress the ball.
Nation Ndlovu was particularly impressive as he freed himself in the left half-space to assist Terrence Mashego and left-footed centre-back Austin Dube to move the ball up the left flank.
In tall left winger Tembinkosi Mbamba and tricky left-footed right winger, Tshegofatso Nyama, Galaxy had good out-balls to stretch Chiefs and force the shuttlers in the diamond to cover large amounts of ground.
As always against a midfield diamond, switching play is the best ploy with both space wide and the benefit of fatiguing the opposition.
Galaxy had one decent chance from wide play as left-back, Mashego picked out Mbamba to fire over.
Malesela is famed for his first-half changes when he isn’t happy with something, and he chose to remove Mbamba after a couple of wasteful dribbles and introduced Snethemba Ngidi.
He moved to a number ten role, with Sizwe Mdlinzo moving to the left in a very narrow position.
CHIEFS WASTE POSSESSION
On Amakhosi’s side, despite doing a good job of forcing play long from Galaxy’s goal kicks, their own use of the ball was dire.
On the left flank, Siphosakhe Ntiya-Ntiya was hitting constant diagonal crosses onto Bernard Parker at the back post with almost nothing coming from them.
When Chiefs had the ball in their own defensive third, Bruce Bvuma was hitting long kicks and Daniel Cardoso was looking to play direct passes too.
Whilst the midfield was congested, and Willard Katsande lacked the ball handling to receive off the back four with regularity, Middendorp’s side looked bereft of ideas in possession.
The only really decent opening Chiefs made was when Khama Billiat got in-behind on the left and squared a poor cross into the box.
Parker managed to win the ball back and fire off a shot, but Dube blocked on the line.
One Bvuma long kick brought a frustrated reaction from his coach.
If Chiefs could play with some actual bravery in the second half, perhaps their greater individual quality would shine through.
MALULEKA COMES ON FOR DAX
At the break, George Maluleka was introduced in place of Dax, who had a mixed first half with some poor giveaways but certainly more pressing energy than Mahlasela, Katsande or the returning Manyama.
Within the first four minutes of the second half, Chiefs had already made three decent openings as Manyama chipped wide, Mahlasela fired straight at Mpakumpaku and Billiat hit an attempt from 20 yards.
With a little more care and patience in possession, Chiefs were already looking much better.
The more open nature of the second half and Chiefs’ improvement had come with Ntiya-Ntiya playing much higher up, driving Nyama back into defensive positions and robbing Galaxy of a good out-ball on the right.
With Mbamba off, their early wide threat was gone.
Amakhosi also looked significantly better in building up with three players as Moleko dropped back to form a back three and Maluleka looked to receive on the right of the diamond.
With Chaine having almost no effect on the game up front for Galaxy, it was perhaps good timing that he went off with a knock and Lepasa came on after 62 minutes.
DISRUPTED FINAL 30
The final 30 minutes of the game saw lots of disruptions due to a spate of head injuries.
Meanwhile, Chiefs introduced Dumisani Zuma for Manyama after 67 minutes, who had run his race after being so long out injured
At the other end, with Nyama picking up a knock, Mfundo Phungwayo came on the right flank.
Naturally a right back, he could better track Ntiya-Ntiya.
Galaxy had offered very little in the final third for over an hour of the game, aside from one opening for Ngidi after Cardoso was caught on the ball but the substitute curled wide of the far post.
The famous winner arrived late on as Ngidi ran off the back of Cardoso, found Lepasa’s run into the box from a wider position, and Hadebe brought the striker down.
Leonardo Castro was thrown on for Chiefs before the spot-kick, but when The Soweto-born Pirates loanee Lepasa dispatched his attempt, history was made.
This was a superb defensive performance from TS Galaxy, limiting Chiefs to very few openings and defending well from Amakhosi’s misguided attempts to deliver high crosses.
In possession, they built up less effectively from the back than usual, but were impressive in midfield.
Going forward though, Malesela’s side offered little and the change to take off Mbamba for tactical reasons gave the side no threat on that flank.
The ineffective performance of Chaine against very physical defending by Cardoso and Hadebe also gave no ability to move up the pitch centrally.
Chiefs made relatively good second half adjustments after an abysmal first half lacking any real courage to play out from the back or quality to play in tight spaces in midfield.
Leaving Maluleka on the bench, withdrawing Dax because of a couple of misplaced passes and not using Castro until injury time were all strange selection choices.
However, the key moment was arguably Lepasa’s introduction.
He brought greater energy and confidence up front, his run drew the penalty and his calm conversion won the day.
TS Galaxy did themselves proud, forced Chiefs into a dire performance in large parts, and in Nation Ndlovu, they had the game’s standout player.
Article continues below