MUMIAS, April 22 – A beaten and tattered Ulinzi Stars will be travelling to the Western Kenya town of Mumias with only one mission in mind; getting their SportPesa Premier League campaign back on track.
After a positive start that saw them go on a seven match unbeaten streak, the military side has lost back-to-back matches at home to Mathare United and away to Posta Rangers.
Coach Robert Matano, referred by most of his peers as ‘The Lion’ will seek to arrest the slump when they face AFC Leopards in Mumias and he is beaming with confidence he will lift the team back to winning ways beginning with the Saturday match against Ingwe.
AFC have not beaten Ulinzi Stars in their last three meetings, the military side winning all, but this came after a run of dominance by Leopards. Matano, himself a former Leopards coach has never lost against them.
“We know it is going to be a tough match but we will fight. The players know that we have to bounce back, we have to get good results coming and we can’t afford another loss,” Matano said ahead of the match.
Ulinzi boast of a very strong defensive record, having conceded the least number of goals in the league, but their biggest worry is the lack of sharpness infront of goal. Ulinzi has hit the opposition net only seven times in nine matches.
It’s not that they haven’t created enough scoring opportunities but their finishing has fallen below per. Last season’s top scorer John Mark Makwatta has only scored thrice this season, two of them being from set piece situations.
In both losses against Posta and Mathare, Ulinzi had more than good chances to win but their finishing let them down.
“We have trained hard on our finishing because that is the only thing we can do at this moment. Football is a game of chances and that is something I have told the players very clearly,” the tough tactician added.
His side will be boosted by the return of winger Cliff Kasuti who had been a key member of the side before missing the last two games with illness.
The 18-year old was brought into the starting team straight after finishing High School at St. Anthony’s boys in Kitale and hasn’t disappointed a bit. His inclusion will be a huge boost to Matano.
Ulinzi though come up against a Leopards side which has been spurred by immense team spirit and belief that they can actually beat all odds and win.
Head coach Ivan Minnaert is optimistic that despite facing an uphill task with Ulinzi, his boys will turn up well and pick all three as they seek to keep tabs with the top two.
Ingwe dropped two points last weekend off the pace at the top with a 1-1 draw with Ushuru and Minnaert has called on his charges to tackle the Ulinzi match like real Leopards and not the pussy cats he insinuated they were after the Ushuru match.
“We have to pull up because this is a tough match. But we are used to it already. Every team which plays against AFC plays like it is a final and we expect the same for Ulinzi. We have prepared well however and hopefully playing in Mumias we can pick a win,” the Belgian coach added.
The top two sides, Mathare United and Tusker FC will be playing at the Nyayo National Stadium on Sunday against Muhoroni Youth and Posta Rangers respectively.
A win by Leopards on Sunday will pile pressure on the two as they will be temporarily dislodged from the top of the log.
While they battle deep in Western Kenya, arch rivals Gor Mahia will be hosting Sony Sugar at the Nyayo Stadium. The defending champions have had a patched up start to the season and last weekend’s controversial loss to Tusker FC never helped matters as they sunk nine points off the top.
Striker Jacques Tuyisenge who only played quarter of an hour of the Tusker match and brought an immense impact is expected to start after regaining 100pc fitness.
The Rwandese national made his K’Ogalo debut with a thump, scoring three goals in his first two matches before being slowed down by injury.
His presence in the Gor forward line is expected to add some scoring punch in a team that has found it hard to get the ball into the net.