NAIROBI, Kenya, May 3 – Defender Jackson Saleh was the hero with a first half header as AFC Leopards snapped a 16-year winless streak against Tusker FC with a 1-0 victory in a Kenyan Premier League (KPL) clash at Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos.
Robert Matano picked his second win of the season at the helm of Ulinzi Stars with a 2-1 win over KCB in their first match under Rishadi Shedu who was appointed midweek.
Elsewhere, Hillary Echesa scored a late goal to help Chemelil Sugar ascend to the summit of the KPL with another 2-1 stuffing of visiting Thika United as the 11th round of the KPL rolled on Saturday.
Focus was on the unfolding events in Machakos as two of the three most decorated clubs came head to head.
With a wide array of attacking talent on show, it was defender Saleh who ran away with the headlines when his third strike of the season turned out to be the only goal of the match played at pace.
His 26th minute goal stemmed the rot that had seen Leopards clawed by Chemelil and Sofapaka in their last two matches as Francis Kimanzi slumped to his third defeat on the bounce as his opposite number, Abdallah Juma, occupying the role as an assistant for yet to be named coach, enjoyed a first victory in charge.
Juma made three changes, welcoming back captain Martin Imbalambala, keeper Patrick Matasi and Harambee Stars forward Allan Wanga who were sidelined for three weeks with injuries while custodian Wycliffe Kasaya returned to the bench.
On his part Kimanzi made four changes to the team that lost 1-0 to Chemelil introducing right back Luke Ochieng, Duncan Wafula, midfielder Ali Abondo and Joshua Oyoo.
The clash started on a high pace with both teams going all out in search of the opening goal and it was the visitors who had the first shot through Joshua Oyoo after four minutes of play but Matasi easily picked the ball.
Saleh finally broke the deadlock, heading home after Abdallah Juma’s free-kick from the left wing hit the post.
Stars speedy winger Paul Were wasted two chances on the stroke of half-time; first after he failed to capitalize on Musa Mudde’s pass that saw defender Martin Kiiza clear the danger.
He was at it again three minutes later picking Wanga’s pass but his effort hit side net as Ingwe enjoyed a 1-0 lead at the breather.
On resumption, the Brewers introduced forward Clifford Alwanga for Oyoo to seek the equaliser but he could not manage to break through Ingwe’s solid defence.
The hosts were forced to pull out Matasi who was on goal for the first time this season after he got injured and was replaced by Kasaya who was making a comeback after staying out for three weeks with injury.
Substitute Alwanga was on target twice in the 60th after Kasaya came scampering out of his area only for his defender Eric Masika to clear the ball off the line.
Kimanzi did a double substitution; bringing on Kevin Kimani for Abondo and Ismael Dunga replacing Wafula fore more firepower as the game inexplicably ended 1-0 as Tusker knocked on Leopard’s door to no avail.
“It was a good game, we were only unlucky. They only had one chance and made good use of it so we have to keep on working hard and hope luck come on our side.
“Sometimes one can tumble in the league so I don’t want to blame any one since players have always been up. Everything is working out but we only need to score and if we do that they don’t need me they can do everything on their own,” Kimanzi rued after the match.
His opposite number Juma said, “I thank God for giving me this important victory since it was eagerly waited by Ingwe family and breaking the 16 year jinx against Tusker made me happy because it has also built my CV.
“The players showed character by playing well and the winning did not come easy since we were ready for them. My system of play worked because I had played Tusker when I was at KCB so I knew how they play and that made things work, for now it’s to win more matches and hope to do well in Sudan at the Cecafa Nile Basin tournament.”
Chemelil scaled to the top of the log at the expense of champions Gor Mahia who play Sunday as Mike Mururi’s charges continued their unbeaten run at Chemelil Complex.
The match started at slow pace with both sides holding back for a goalless first-half.
Substitute Moses Arita struck first for the visitors in the 76th minute from a David King’atua cross before Stephen Wakhanya levelled three minutes later.
Echesa then drilled a thunderbolt into the back of the net for the win.
At Nakuru’s Afraha Stadium, Ulinzi earned a sweet revenged following their 2-1 win over KCB who eliminated them in the Top 8 by an identical score line a fortnight ago in Machakos.
This was the first match for coach Shedu who was appointed on Thursday to replace Juma who was sacked three weeks ago after a string of poor results.
The former Bandari tactician made two changes to the squad that edged out Top Fry Nakuru 3-2 introducing Andrew Murunga and Kokola Manopi.
The Soldiers were the better side as they went to the interval leading by two goals that were netted by Evans Amwoka in the 22nd before Kevin Amwayi doubled four minutes later.
Teenager Chrispinus Onyango pulled one back at the 60th connecting home Murunga’s cross but Ulinzi held on for the crucial win that lifted them to 11th with 13 points as the bankers continued to be routed at the basement.
The league continues on Sunday with five matches on the card, Gor will be away to play Sony Sugar in Nakuru while Sofapaka will host Western Stima at Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos.
KRA will square it out with Mathare United in an early kick-off at Nairobi’s Nyayo National Stadium in a televised match before City Stars invite bottom placed Top Fry Nakuru at the same venue.
Muhoroni Youth will wrap up this weekend’s fixture when they welcome Bandari.