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Who will blink first in the ‘Shemeji’ derby?

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NAIROBI, Kenya, September 21- Will it be the wounded Leopards clawing their way back to the title hunt or is the grand march for the ‘Green Army’ supporters on the offing on Saturday?

In what is regarded as the biggest derby in recent times for the two most popular clubs in the country, the two foreign tacticians at the helm are expected to marshal their best troops for the crunch fixture as AFC Leopards welcome Gor Mahia.

The top of the table match is expected to evoke memories of the early years of Kenyan football where Gor and Leopards held sway trading the national league crown uninterrupted from 1979 to 1993.

With two points separating the two sides in the running for the Tusker Premier League (TPL) crown, this tie at the newly refurbished Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani will shape the destiny of the title with five matches remaining.

Gor who are seen as favourites are already playing down the anxiety that comes with the derby as they return to the venue since their Top 8 final victory over Ulinzi last month.

Assistant coach Bobby Ogolla told Capital Sport they were ardent on sustaining their momentum for pole position as they face an Ingwe side that is smarting from a 2-1 defeat at Western Stima last weekend.

“It’s a do or die game but we are taking it as any other league tie, there are three results in any game but we are going for the best which is to win and we will work hard for it.

“Obviously we know victory will take us to the top but we are staying calmly and we will play as per our plans,” said the former Gor player who was caretaker coach before the arrival of Croat Zradvko Logarusic.

K’Ogalo have no injury concerns and are expected to be stronger with their impressive unbeaten run under Logarusic who boasts of a side that has several players in the score sheet in the recent matches

However for Ingwe, despite been second on the log behind champions Tusker on goal difference they have endured a turbulent run in the league with wrangling in the club’s management taking a toll on its performance on several occasions.

The team that returned to Nairobi from a residential camp in Mumias on Thursday will be without striker Victor Ocheing who is yet to recover from an ankle injury but will welcome back dependable defender Eric Masika, a former Gor player whose services were dearly missed during the defeat at Stima in Nakuru.

Allan Wanga and Mike Barasa are likely to spear head the attack upfront after failing to impress in their last three games with speedy winger Paul Were set to join them from the flanks.

Dutchman Jan Koops will depend on captain Martin Imbalambala to marshal the midfield with the support of Bernard Mangoli, Charles Okwemba and perhaps Idriss Rajabu or the diminutive Jimmy Bageya on the right.

Their backline which was exposed during their last fixture will be the focus as Masika returns to partner with Jonas Nahimana and Abbas Kiwalyeye who is likely to replace Edwin Wafula with the technical bench set to make the hard decision of choosing the best keeper between Patrick Matasi and Barnabas Tiema.

They will be up against the lethal tacking duo of Ugandan import Dan Sserenkuma and midfielder Rama Salim who have been a headache for defenders in the league with their fast coordinated moves.

Their fluid midfield that includes Moses Odhiambo, Anthony Akumu, and Victor Ali who saw red in the first leg at Nyayo stadium may be picked to provide the ball supply as K’Ogalo go for the win that will see them top the log.

With custodian Jerim Onyango between the posts, he is likely to be shielded from the Leopards attacks by Ugandan Ivan Aguyo, Solomon Nasio, David Owino and Donald Mosoti.

As Logarusic likes to state, ‘we are dangerous even from the bench’, he has an additional set in Edwin Lavatsa and Itubu Imbem who have in several occasions come in as replacement to pen their name in the score sheets.

The tie that was brought forward to Saturday due to fears of insecurity will be the first encounter between two successful foreign coaches as Logarusic faces Koops who are credited with reviving the fortunes of the two clubs evident in the recent call up to the national team.

Battle lines have been drawn, the title is on the cards, the fans are ready to cheer their favourite teams, so who will enjoy the dance best? We will find out after the final whistle.

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