Nairobi, March 29- AFC Leopards head coach Ivan Minnaert is out to ensure the team maintains their unbeaten run when the SportPesa Premier League resumes on Wednesday from a two week international break.
Leopards, who have started the season on a high in their opening five matches, is one of three clubs yet to lose a match this season.
Ingwe are joint leaders on 11 points same as Mathare United, who have a better goal difference, and will be looking to pick maximum points when they welcome eighth placed Kakamega Homeboyz at Nairobi’s Nyayo National Stadium on Wednesday.
Minnaert, speaking to Capital Sport has underlined the importance of his side maintaining their tempo especially as they keep their bid to win a Premier League title for the first time since 1998.
“Every game for us is tough and we must take each as it comes. It is very important for us to remain where we are and pick the three points because we have an ambition for the season,” the Belgian tactician said.
Leopards has been boosted with the return of left-back Andrew Diego while midfielder Andrew Tololwa is fully fit after the duo picked up injuries in their 1-0 win over eternal rivals Gor Mahia early this month.
“Diego’s recovery is a major boost because I don’t have many options in his left-back position. Yussuf (Juma) is good but defensively he does not give what I require. He is only good offensively. I think for us to maintain our momentum we need most of the players to remain fit,” the tactician opined.
Leopards have played four friendly matches during the two-week break, winning three and drawing one and Minnaert is upbeat they have kept his side in check in terms of fitness ahead of a match he reckons as tough.
The two sides have met twice, in the 2013 season before the latter were relegated with Ingwe winning both encounters 3-0 and 2-1 respectively.
A win for Leopards tomorrow will propel them top of the table if Mathare United draw or lose to Nairobi City Stars in an early kick off.
-Bandari seek to stop Ulinzi-
The other big midweek clash sees another unbeaten side; Ulinzi Stars play Bandari FC at the Mbaraki Complex in Mombasa.
The Military side has started the season brightly, winning two matches and drawing three to sit fifth on nine points.
Ulinzi’s away form has been exemplary as both their wins have come off their Afraha Stadium turf.
However, head coach Robert Matano believes it will be a tough match against a Bandari side that is equally strong and are placed third on the standings just a point above them.
In all competitions, Ulinzi Stars has lost away to Bandari only once in the six times they have met in Mombasa.
The Soldiers have won twice both 2-0, drawing thrice all 1-1 and losing once, with the Dockers winning the last encounter 1-0 when the two sides faced-off in a GOtv Shield Quarter final.
“Bandari is a tough team looking at how they have recruited and the results they have posted recently. We expect a tough encounter but we want to win and keep our momentum high,” Matano told Capital Sport.
The GOtv Shield champions has played two home matches this season, winning both against Sony Sugar and Kakamega Homeboyz and are yet to concede a goal.
Head coach Twahir Muhiddin, who maintains his side can repeat their last year performance will be eying all points at home.
At the Chemelil Complex, fourth placed Tusker FC will be facing their hosts Chemelil Sugar with Paul Nkata out to keep the Brewers’ away form intact.
Tusker has picked maximum points in all three matches they have played away, but they should expect a tougher assignment against a resurgent Chemelil.
It will be a nostalgic meeting for Chemelil Sugar custodian Samwel Odhiambo, meeting up with the side he skippered for two seasons before parting ways at the start of last season.
The burly goalkeeper made his name at the sugar belt side from where Tusker signed him, going on to win two league titles with the Ruaraka based side.
“We are on different sides now and although Tusker has a special place in my heart, it will be down to business. We have won only one match this season and looking at how the team struggled last season, we want to pick as many early points as possible,” Odhiambo said.
-Zico facing former side-
Elsewhere, Zedekiah ‘Zico’ Otieno will be facing his former employers when Posta Rangers takes on Sony Sugar at the Ruaraka Ground.
Otieno left the Sugar Millers midway through last season but never stayed jobless for a long time, being picked up by Rangers whom he guided back to the top flight league.
Sony are in tatters, sitting at the basement of the league standings with only a single point, having lost four of their opening five matches and pressure is mounting on new coach Leonard Odipo who is yet to pick a win since taking over the job from Salim Babu.
Playing away from the pressure cooker that is Awendo and on a field where he started his coaching journey should be motivation enough for Odipo to rake in a result against Zico’s Rangers.
Rangers are seeking to recover after Kakamega Homeboyz inflicted on them their first defeat of the season, losing 1-0 in Mumias.
“It isn’t such a big thing meeting with Sony. For me, it is a match just like any other. Our focus is to regain our winning formula after losing against Homeboyz and I am quite confident we will win at home. Sony are not an easy opponent especially looking at their position on the table but my players know the importance of us picking those three points,” Otieno stated.
The two sides have met six times in the league between 2010 and 2012 with Rangers a shoulder ahead on head to head record, winning three of their meetings against one with the other being a draw.
KPL Midweek fixtures;
Mathare United v City Stars, AFC Leopards v Kakamega Homeboyz (Nyayo Stadium), Posta Rangers v Sony Sugar (Ruaraka Complex), Chemelil Sugar v Tusker FC (Chemelil), Western Stima v Sofapaka (Moi Stadium, Kisumu), Muhoroni Youth v Ushuru FC (Muhoroni), Bandari FC v Ulinzi Stars (Mbaraki Stadium)