NAIROBI. Kenya, October 31 – The mass exodus of Green Army and Ingwe fans to the western part of the country began in earnest on Friday amid the disorderly climax of the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) that has two rounds to go.
Sofapaka president, Elly Kalekwa informed Capital Sport they would fly out to Kisumu and travel by road to Mumias to face AFC Leopards after KPL assured them on security following the chaotic last meeting between them a fortnight ago during the abandoned GOtv Shield semi.
“We could have not have departed until we were assured of security but since the match is tomorrow and we are still in Nairobi, we will fly there,” Kalekwa declared with the said assurances coming on the eve of the match forcing the club to incur hefty transport costs.
The team petitioned KPL on Wednesday to shift the match from Mumias Sports Complex but had to wait for another 48 hours to get the guarantee they needed.
Champions Gor Mahia who are already in Kisumu had to wait for confirmation their fixture against Muhoroni Youth would go ahead at their spiritual home after their hosts asked to shift the match to Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi for security concerns.
To inflame the situation Football Kenya Federation (FKF) abruptly lifted its ban on Gor and Leopards fans Thursday, meaning security arrangements had to be scrambled fast days after the same governing body proscribed supporters of the local titans for acts of hooliganism in Nairobi and Machakos blamed on them.
A bitter KPL expressed their displeasure with the governing body’s interference in their judicial processes with western Kenya turning into a powder keg should results not go in Gor and AFC’s favour.
Above the din of security concerns, stadium bans and abandoned matches that filled acres of space in local media this week, there is a league title to be decided with perennial archrivals Gor and Leopards key players in the destiny of the crown by a twist of fate.
Leaders K’Ogalo (54) who are in pole position desperately in need of a favour from their ‘Mashemeji’ (in-laws) Leopards to floor Batoto Ba Mungu whilst they beat Muhoroni to retain the title they lifted last year for the first time in 18-years, with a point separating them from Sofapaka.
But their Scottish coach, Frank Nutall dismissed talk his club needed a helping hand from Leopards who are out of the title race in sixth place and having been stuffed by Sofapaka in the Shield after FKF ruled against them and awarded the challengers a 2-0 win, have no trophy to fight for this season.
“We don’t need favours from any team to win the title; we are capable of doing it on our own. Anything can happen in the reaming two games for both teams so it’s not yet over till it’s over,” he said with gritted teeth.
For Gor, it is crucial they wrap up the title this weekend because in recent times, the club has buckled under pressure on the big occasion, losing 3-2 to Sofapaka in Machakos last weekend and missing out on the title altogether in 2012 when Tusker overhauled them on the last day of the season when victory against Thika United would have secured the trophy.
With last weekend’s clash billed perhaps in folly as ‘a title decider’ Gor simply had no answer to determined opponents who recovered from falling behind to lead 3-1 before a brief late rally brought the score line to 3-2 at regulation time in a tempestuous game stopped thrice due to trouble in the stands.
The wounded Green Army did not take it lightly turning Machakos into a battlefield with property destroyed, vehicles burned and scores injured.
Whether Nutall admits it or not, a Leopards’ win would be received with open arms at the Green Army barracks and should results favour them, a drink up with their in-laws in western cannot be ruled out after the game!
Nuttall will be taking no chances; fielding his strongest squad with right-back Musa Mohammed and youngster Timothy Otieno who missed in their 3-2 loss against Sofapaka in Machakos likely to return to the first XI.
Otieno who starts upfront with talisman Dan Sserunkuma could relegate Eric Ochieng to the bench with Collins Okoth, Geoffrey Kizito manning the midfield with the revived George ‘Blackberry’ Odhiambo providing the threat from the flanks but a win against Muhoroni is not a foregone conclusion.
Sofapaka have taken the fight to the titans and prevailed in the past fortnight and to scale the heights once more since 2009 when they won the title on promotion to the KPL, Sam Timbe’s charges need another monumental performance against a side they dominated to the point of infuriating their fans to rampage.
Defensive rock and captain Felly Mulumba who missed Gor’s tie due to suspension returns to boost their cause, knowing victory will pile all the pressure on the leaders heading to the last weekend or capitalise fully on any slip by the champions against a plucky Muhoroni side under Francis Baraza who secured their KPL status with solid play in the second half of the season to claim the lead outright.
In form speedy forward Enock Agwanda and Burundian international Fiston Abdul Razak will give Ingwe’s backline of Jackson Saleh, Joseph Shikokoti, Edwin Wafula and James Situma another run for their spots.
Ekaliani Ndolo, Danson Kago and Maurice Odipo will take charge of the midfield with Clifton Miheso providing ammunition from the wings.
“The win against Gor gave us morale to put more effort so that if we can go for the league and cup double. We face difficult matches but we are also a big team. Our aim is to take each match as a final,” Razak said ahead of the crunch with another formidable side, Tusker FC looming in their last match of the season.
Leopards have no extra motivation to go hail and leather since they only have a top eight finish to fight for but with their pride punctured during their embarrassing dethronement of the Shield; they have enough reason to come out with all claws showing having camped in Mumias for the whole week.
Sofapaka will be banking on playing a dispirited side since Ingwe players have been on a go slow in the past week due to unpaid allowances although the club’s top hierarchy have dismissed talk of industrial action.
Other fixtures will see Ushuru host Chemelil Sugar at Nairobi’s City Stadium while Bandari will travel to Ulinzi Stars.
On Sunday, KCB who need a point to survive host Sony Sugar at Nairobi’s Ruaraka Grounds while Mathare United face Western Stima at Nyayo Stadium, already relegated Nakuru All Stars welcome Nairobi City Stars while Tusker lock horns with Thika United.
The western crucial encounters will be aired live on SuperSport from Kisumu’s Moi Stadium and Mumias starting from 2pm local time (+3GMT).