NAIROBI, Kenya, April 5- Francis Kimanzi enjoyed a winning return to the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) when his new charges Sofapaka beat table topping Tusker FC 1-0 on Tuesday night at Nyayo National Stadium.
Last season’s top scorer, John Baraza, stepped up to coolly convert a 75th minute spot-kick to open his account after Tusker defender, Noah Abich was correctly adjudged by centre referee, Haji Adede, to have hacked down forward John Njoroge in the tight encounter.
“This is the kind of start to give a new employer. I have not had enough time to make the team into what I want them to be but for today; I worked on the set-pieces, corners, free kicks and penalties. We should have had another in the first half but I’m happy the boys played according to plan,” Kimanzi enthused after the game.
Sofapaka improved to ten points to equal the tally of Western Stima and Gor Mahia with Tusker still fronting the log a further two points ahead of the chasing pack at the congested summit of the league with five rounds played.
Having watched Sofapaka tear Egypt’s Ismaily 4-0 on Saturday to seal their passage to the play-off for the group stage of CAF Confederation Cup from the stands, Kimanzi took his place as head of the technical bench in the crunch tie against the unbeaten league leaders.
Tusker, who had won their opening four KPL matches heading to this tie came off the blocks in a sprint, with Abich almost opening the scoring inside 90 seconds when his precise free-kick cannoned off the cross bar with Zachariah Onyango in the Sofapaka goal well and truly beaten.
It was then the turn of their forward, George Midenyo to spurn the first of many opportunities that came his way throughout the match in the 14th minute with defender Joseph Shikokoti also coming close to breaking the deadlock after placing a free header wide of goal from a corner.
At that point, Sofapaka were struggling to get hold of the ball but they did curve openings with winger Bob Mugalia orchestrating most of their opportunities.
Baraza had a sniff at a goal when his downward header came off the ground and over the bar from close range from a corner in the 37th.
The second period saw Sofapaka dominate the midfield and it took Baraza 40 seconds from the restart to scuff a near post shot wide of Boniface Oluoch’s goal.
Then it was the turn of Ugandan international, Musa Mudde to force Onyango to a diving save with another fierce shot ten minutes later.
A flowing move initiated by Mugalia almost broke the deadlock in the 72nd minute. The naturalised Congolese born Kenyan international fed Baraza who in turn squeezed the ball to Njoroge in the 72nd minute saw the forward miss the target by inches.
Another replica interchange of play involving the trio led to the all decisive moment of the match. Veteran midfielder, Titus Mulama robbed Crispine Olando of possession before sending Mugalia scampering on the right wing.
His low cross to the box was touched on to Baraza who once again laid it for the onrushing Njoroge but his run was ended by Abich who got his legs tangled with the attacker from behind.
Adede had little choice but to point to the spot with the attacker carried off the field and after the ensuing free-for-all quieted, Baraza took a slow step up to the ball before sending Oluoch the wrong way to tuck a deft low shot to the bottom left corner.
Tusker almost hit back immediately when an unmarked Midenyo placed his header close to Onyango who desperately parried it away before substitute Heritier Luvualu, a Congolese national, twice came agonisingly close to extending Sofapaka’s advantage.
Luvualu’s first attempt came four minutes after their opener after his fierce drive in the box missed the target by inches and on the 87th minute, saw a similar strike ricochet off the bottom right post with Oluoch out of the equation.
“They had a very good midfield. Credit to them they gave us few chances and when we got them, they had a strong defence. We are not dead, we only lost one match and we still have a long way to go,” Midenyo said post-match.
“Having not scored this season, I knew I had to be calm when taking the penalty and now since the first has gone in, the pressure is off,” Baraza who has been the league’s Golden Boot winner in the last two seasons with identical 15 goals stated.
“We have the players with the character to come back in our next game against Sony Sugar. I believe we did not lose the game today and I need to watch the penalty again. We created chances but it did not work for us,” Tusker coach, Samuel Omolo, expressed.
But the game was all about the former Harambee Stars and Mathare United tactician, Kimanzi who returned from Sofapaka after a one year coaching training stint in Holland.
“If this was my last match, I would have gone on holiday but the work has just started. My first aim is to avoid relegation to please the sponsors, fans and club administration and maybe next year, we can win the league. I do not want to load the players with what I have come with too fast and it will require patience for the team to be what I want it to be.”
Having just passed his litmus test, even the respected coach is aware the rough and tumble has just set-off and his assignment with demanding Sofapaka will be a marathon, not a sprint.