NAIROBI, Kenya, October 22 – As champions Gor Mahia edge closer to popping the champagne, things are tensing up at the bottom of the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) with none of the three relegation-threatened teams ready to throw in the towel.
As things stand Bandari and KCB two of the stars from last season and experienced escapologists; Nairobi City Stars are striving not to join the all but officially axed basement side, Nakuru All Stars three games to the November 8 finale.
All Stars and City Stars are likeliest candidates for the chop but their head coaches are adamant; ‘it’s not over till it’s over.
With life outside the top tier proving to be a nightmare for relegated sides it’s a race against time as the date with the chopping board edges ever closer for the contenders.
-Dimmed All Stars-
Barring the greatest of the Great Escapes, All Stars look set to be jettisoned back to the division they came from last season at the first time of asking. Their destiny is more than decided, having faced a rough and bumpy journey since the joy of promotion; managing only three wins in 27 matches to occupy bottom place for the most part of the campaign.
The team has changed management thrice, after a series of poor performances saw the Oliver Page shown the door to be replaced by assistant Peter Okidi, the man who brought them up before paving way for the German before former AFC Leopards tactician and hatchet-job man Nick Yakhama took charge.
All Stars players who were reported to have downed their boots due to unpaid dues on Wednesday; needs a miracle to survive since their chances have been reduced to mathematical where they need to win their remaining matches and hope KCB loses all theirs.
“The players are not on strike. We trained today (Wednesday) and morale in camp is high. We still have hope that we will remain in the league.
“All we need to do is collect maximum points in three games and hope KCB lose so I’m calling on our fans to keep hope and rally behind the team because we need them more now,” Yakhama, who saved Leopards from the drop in 2009 and 10 told Capital Sport.
The team has gone four matches winless and travel to Western Stima on Sunday before taking on City Stars (Afraha Stadium) and KCB (Nyayo) and a loss will finally read them their last rites depending on how KCB play.
Claims that Yakhama was ‘sabotaging’ the club internally and was the cause of their strike have not aided a side that should be fighting all hands on deck.
Should the KPL ‘grim reaper’ claim their top flight status; they will join Bandari, Congo United and Oserian that have made a swift return to the first division since 2011.
-Survival ‘Kings’ in danger-
City Stars have been in the topflight for a decade and the relegation zone is not new territory, having escaped the chop by a whisker in the past three seasons but it appears luck is finally running out.
The cash-strapped Kawangware based side has had one of their worst seasons that saw them release head coach; Nigerian Robinson Ndumbuisi due to lack of funds to remunerate him with Briton Tim Brytte taking over on a voluntary basis before his predecessor returned to the dugout “to help the club starve relegation”.
If that was not enough for the side that saw key players led by veteran forward Francis Thairu, Mark Makwata, Dennis Ng’ang’a and winger Jimmy Bagaye desert them, sparking a second-leg collapse that has seen them win only once in 20 matches.
KCB’s 2-1 reverse to Chemelil last weekend gave them reprieve since they would have fallen seven points behind the Bankers had they prevailed, bringing their KPL life closer to its end.
Despite sitting four points off survival, Ndumbuisi still maintains the die is not cast considering KCB are playing Bandari who are also fighting to remain in the league.
“Our opponents leave us no option but to win all our remaining matches because a draw will take us nowhere. We will survive by whichever way and if all goes well and we win our match against Muhoroni, the remaining two matches should be played on the same day and time,” he underscored.
“We still have a lifeline because we have nine points at stake though the situation remains tricky. It’s about three teams fighting for survival but for us we welcome any result,” City Stars captain John Amboko added.
In order to survive, City Stars who lost 2-0 to Sony Sugar must win all their remaining matches against Muhoroni, All Stars and Mathare United whistle hoping KCB falter.
Of the three teams facing the axe, a second leg resurgence from the Bankers has left their fate in their own hands and two more wins should guarantee their safety.
Relegation rivals Bandari and All Stars sandwiched between a tricky tie against Sony are KCB’s remaining hurdles to extend their KPL stay.
It is difficult to fathom they were candidates for the title at the beginning of the campaign after earning all plaudits last term with a heady fourth finish. KPL Coach of the Year, Abdallah Juma, was shunted out after a nightmare run in the first leg that saw them sink bottom.
In came Rishadi Shedu who went about to steady the ship with six wins in 27 games as they rose to be among the form teams of the second half of the season.
“We are sure of survival as long as we stay ahead. We wanted to win the game against Chemelil so that we could be on the safer side. Now we have to fight in the next game. The team is in high spirit and I’m sure the loss will not destruct us but will rather encourage us to win the next matches,” Shedu stressed.
The last time the Bankers found themselves in this situation was in 2010 where they survived ahead of Homegrown and Coast Stars who went under.
For the Dockers they just need a win against KCB, Ulinzi Stars or AFC Leopards to be assured of being KPL residents next season.