NAKURU, Kenya, Oct 1- John Makwatta stepped off the bench to score a second half hat-trick as Ulinzi Stars sailed to the GOtv Shield final after overcoming Kariobangi Sharks 4-1 at Nakuru’s Afraha Stadium on Saturday.
Steven Odhiambo scored a late consolation for Sharks, but it did not deter the military side’s march into the final where they will meet KPL leaders Tusker FC who beat KCB 1-0 in the early kick off semi-final.
The game seemed almost evenly matched in the first half, but Ulinzi’s total dominance in the second period, aided by Makwatta’s prowess infront of goal lifted Ulinzi who now hope for their first local title in five years.
“I am really happy with how we performed today. We took our chances, commanded the game from start to finish and now our hopes of winning a title are a reality,” Ulinzi Stars stand-in-coach Benjamin Nyangweso said after the match.
“The boys played so well and what makes it sweeter is that after 21 years, we are in the final.”
His opposite number William Muluya conceded defeat, blaming their near miss performance on the absence of six of his key players.
“They are vital in the team and we saw how much their absence was missed. It is good for us though to measure up with the top sides and we have picked up lessons which we hope will drive us forward,” the former Mathare United team manager noted.
The soldiers got into the lead in the sixth minute with Wamalwa looping the ball into an empty net after a mix up between Sharks goalkeeper Malcom Oigo and his defender Wycliffe Otieno.
The two raced onto the same ball on the left with Enosh Ochieng pressuring them to lose the ball and Wamalwa had the easiest of tasks to chip the ball into the net.
Left-back Odhiambo came into Sharks’ rescue six minutes later, with the slightest of brushes of a Samwel Onyango cross at the edge of the box taking the ball away from Brian Birgen who was waiting to volley it in.
On the other end, Sharks had their first chance but Ibrahim Kitawi shot the ball over on first instant after Omar Mbongi’s attempted clearance went awry.
Rodgers Ochieng had the best chance of the half for the second tier side after Kitawi picked him up passing the ball between the two Ulinzi central defenders, but the forward could only shoot wide with a clear view of goal.
Ulinzi goal scorer Wamalwa had to be stretchered off after 26 minutes, after picking up a hamstring strain as he attempted to race for a ball on the right, Makwatta taking his place.
Sharks continued with their pressure and Odhiambo had a go with a freekick on the half hour mark which Saruni spilled but the onrushing Pascal Ogweno could not hit the target, instead shooting over.
The tempo of the match was killed down as the second half wore on with heavy rains pounding, but the weather would calm down at the start of the second half.
Ulinzi began by bringing off Abdallah Hamisi who had started at right back for Daniel Waweru, a change that saw Birgen drop down to defense while the incoming Waweru joined the attack.
He had an almost immediate impact after coming on with a shot from the edge of the box that sent Oigo sprawling into a save for a corner.
From the resultant set piece, the keeper was also at hand to palm away Geoffrey Kokoyo’s effort from the far post.
Ulinzi’s resilleince paid off with Makwatta hitting twice in three minutes. He got his first in the 58th minute with a blasting shot after picking a pass from Ochieng who had won the ball from 40 yards out.
Makwatta doubled the lead in superb fashion after a decent one-two exchange of passes with Ochieng, dribbling into the box and sending the ball into the far left of Oigo’s goal.
The former Nairobi City Stars attacking midfielder finished off the job in the 77th minute with a well taken freekick from the edge of the box but Sharks responded with an even better one when Odhiambo sent the ball into the top left of James Saruni’s goal.