NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 23- Tusker F.C. survived a late Muhoroni Youth F.C. comeback to win 2-1 at the Afraha Stadium in Nakuru on Friday and open up a five point gap at the top of the Kenyan Premier League standings.
Second placed Gor Mahia were holding their nerves for Tusker to drop points, but the defending champions will be under pressure to win on Sunday and restore the two-point buffer between the two sides.
Defender Paul Muchika halved Muhoroni’s arrears in the 54th minute with Anthony Ndolo and former Muhoroni forward George Mandela having given Tusker a 2-0 half time lead, but the sugar belt side could not take the fight to the tape with Tusker holding on.
Tusker FC, the 10-time league champions – started the match on much gusto with Muhoroni playing second fiddle for almost the entirety of the opening period.
Two goals within four minutes, thanks to defending and poor goalkeeping from Farouk Shikalo gave Nkata’s men the much needed advantage.
Ndolo scored the opener in the 7th minute, controlling Hashim Sempala’s dipping cross unmarked at the edge of the box before shooting past a hapless Shikalo, the keeper remaining rooted to his spot.
Mandela got one over his former employers four minutes later, running in from right-back Wycliffe Nyangechi’s blind side to shoot low from Noah Wafula’s cross on the right.
It was a comfortable start for Nkata’s men, and a huge sigh of relief especially knowing the amount of pressure they carried into the game.
Muhoroni had their first effort on target in the 27th minute, captain Francis Ochollah’s free-kick from range being easily picked up by Tusker keeper David Okello.
Towards the end of the half, Humphrey Mieno had two chances to extend Tusker’s lead, but both were saved by his former team mate Shikalo who had now gotten his groove back after his absentee performances in the opening minutes.
A one-two exchange of passes between Mieno and Ndolo saw the former break into the box in the 34th minute, but he couldn’t get a strong boot on the ball with Shikalo leaping to his left to save.
Six minutes later, Mieno forced an even better save off the Muhoroni shot stopper, this time punching away his sweetly taken volley after being fed through Allan Wanga’s hard work.
In the second half, Tusker sought to bury the game with a third goal and they had three chances in the 52nd minute which all went begging.
First, Ndolo’s header from a Shafik Batambuze cross was saved by Shikalo who also managed to spread his body nicely on the ground to keep out Wanga’s effort on the rebound while Mandela struck the second rebound way over the bar.
Tusker was punished for the missed chances just two minutes on the turn, Muchika dipping a header into the far post from substitute Sammy Ndung’us corner.
The goal gave Muhoroni some new found energy as they pumped in more pressure, angling for an equalizer and probably a winner. Ndung’us dipping ball from the left almost caught out keeper David Okello but luckily for him, the ball went a few inches wide.
The sugar belt side dumped more balls inside the Tusker area, but they could not get their act right in the final third, the brewers’ backline doing their best to clear out all danger.
With five minutes to go, Tusker head coach Paul Nkata sought to guard the slim advantage, pulling out Ndolo for defender Martin Kizza.
Substitute Jackson Macharia who had come on for Mandela 10 minutes earlier came inches close to sealing the deal for Tusker at the stroke of full time, but his curling effort on the weaker left foot missed the target by a whisker.