NAIROBI, April 3 – AFC Leopards hopes of finishing the SportPesa Premier League unbeaten were thwarted by City Stars after going down 1-0 to the Kawangware based side in an entertaining encounter played at Nyayo National Stadium on Sunday.
In the early kick-off at the same venue, Mathare United bounced back from mid week’s 2-0 defeat at the hands of City Stars to edge out Ushuru FC 1-0 thanks to Obadiah Ndege’s penalty at the stroke of half-time.
In Awendo, Sony Sugar and Western Stima fired blanks as both sides settled for a goalless draw
The attention of the day was at high riding Leopards, who were out to extend their lead at the top of the table but City Stars skipper Oscar Mbugua struck in the 67th minute to hand Ingwe head coach Ivan Minnaert his first defeat.
It was a pinch back to reality for Ingwe who were swimming in untold glory, having started the season strongly picking up four wins in their opening six matches.
The loss saw Leopards drop to third on 14 points same as leaders Tusker FC and Mathare United but with an inferior goal difference.
It was City Stars who started the match brighter and Leopards keeper Lucas Indeche was forced into a superb reflex save in the second minute of the match after Oliver Maloba had risen to connect to an Ezekiel Odera flick unmarked inside the box.
Mbugua had a chance for the hosts with a free-kick from a decent goal scoring range, but he took his technique disappointingly with the ball going over.
City Stars were dangerous especially on the breaks with Jimmy Bageya and Maloba the architects, but their main undoing was they could not pick the right pass in the final third.
Ingwe had back-to-back chances in the 16th minute from set pieces, first Yussuf Juma’s free-kick from the right being blocked while from the resultant corner, Odera almost flicked into his own net with the ball going a few inches wide Victor Odhiambo’s goal.
The hosts were playing much of the game on the back foot and twice the backline had to block dangerous shots, once from Victor Omune who was teed up by Clifton Miheso while the second attempt was from Kepha Aswani.
Ingwe started the second-half determined with an attack minded. Centre-back Eugene Ambulwa had a diving header at the far post hit the side netting three minutes from the restart after racing in to meet Juma’s corner.
A minute later, Andrew Tololwa almost caught City Stars’ goalkeeper Victor Odhiambo off his line with a decent volley from distance, but the lanky custodian managed to backpedal and push the ball behind for a corner.
In the 55th minute, Leopards had the best chance of the game but Omune shot straight at Odhiambo with the keeper only to beat after being picked up with a sleek through pass from Allan Katterega.
Leopards kept the chase, planting ball after ball in attack but City Stars kept their defensive discipline.
While City Stars sat back, their main tact going upfront was hitting on the counter using the speed of Bageya and Maloba.
One such expedition on the break would bear fruit with John ’Bobby’ Ogolla’s winning a corner in the 67th minute.
Bageya floated in the set piece with Arthur Museve heading it into the six yard box for Mbugua to slum it home on the second bite of the cherry after his initial effort was blocked by Indeche.
Five minutes later, Minnaert was forced to change tact, pulling out right-back Cresten Mwanzo for forward Lamin Diallo.
Leopards shifted to a three man backline as they chose to throw more bodies forward in search of the equalizer and a possible winner.
City Stars kept to their defensive discipline everyone falling behind the ball whenever they lost possession and shut down the spaces swiftly.
Late in the game, Odhiambo pulled a superb save, punching away for a corner a stinging shot from Aswani.
Despite five minutes of added time, Ogolla’s charges managed to hold on to the slim lead and leap to eighth on the standings after seven rounds of matches.
-Mathare bounces back-
Ndege scored his fifth goal of the season from the spot to hand Mathare United crucial points.
Earlier, Ushuru had gotten the ball inside the net through veteran Charles Okwemba in the 24th minute, but the former AFC Leopards man was ruled to have headed in from an offside position.
Mathare would have made an immediate response but Ali Kimera pulled off a decent save to deny Ndege, who had done well to chest down a cross from Alfred Ndonye.
Eric Johannah tried his luck from the rebound but the effort was blocked as well.
In the second half, Mathare tightened their defense and despite Ushuru throwing attacks at them, the experienced back line anchored by former Harambee Stars centre-back George ‘Wise’ Owino stood firm.
“It was a tough match for us with both teams giving their all. What made the match harder is that we had to adjust to new conditions on the pitch. We have been playing on dry ground and now with the wet and slippery pitch, the players have to give in more energy,” Mathare United head coach Francis Kimanzi said after the match.
Ushuru have not won at home this season and this is one of the things head coach Ken Kenyatta is looking to firm up as he seeks to mount a challenge for a top five finish this season.