In the best advertisement of the young Kenyan Premier League (KPL) season, Abdallah Juma’s free-kick in the dying seconds decided the game that swung both ways in the course of the 90 minutes.
Veteran striker John Baraza netted a brace with Evans Amuoka and James Mulinge from the spot levelling matters in a match where Humphrey Mieno was sent-off before Juma intervened in sensational fashion to settle the frenetic contest.
“Sometimes you can’t believe what you see. We did not utilise our chances and Sofapaka scored with a mistake from a keeper. To lose a game like this is very bitter,” Ulinzi beleaguered coach, Benjamin Nyangweso summed the night of high drama.
Sofapaka boss, Salim Ali who was sent to the stands immediately the winner went in said, “It’s fantastic to the boys what they have done is unbelievable. It was a result of commitment and teamwork. We are still behind AFC Leopards but this is a motivation.”
It all started unravelling at the Nyayo National Stadium in the 12th minute when Baraza opened the scoring from a low pass across the box from the lanky Mieno with a well poached finish, taking the ball past Francis Ochieng in the Ulinzi goal before rolling it to the net.
The goal was just reward for the disjointed Ulinzi centre-half pairing of Mulinge and captain Geoffrey Kokoyo who time and again, were caught in no man’s land in the box.
With Mieno pulling the strings in midfield, Sofapaka sought to press home their advantage and with 25 minutes on the clock, Baraza once again stole between the Ulinzi centre halves to plant a firm header that was parried out by Ochieng.
Minutes later, the Ulinzi custodian was forced to block a stinging shot from Heritier Luvualu before the military men survived another well orchestrated attack in the 37th when Stephen Mburu fired over after a sweeping move.
Mieno launched that attack by exchanging passes with Mburu who continued his run to the box to receive the return that he wasted with only Ochieng to beat.
In response, last season’s KPL top scorer, Stephen Waruru who for the seventh match lacked the killer touch, had the opportunity to haul his side back when he brought down a long punt from Ochieng but his effort sailed to the stands.
Then on the stroke of half-time, Ulinzi almost profited from a bizarre clearance from Sofapaka keeper, Duncan Ochieng that landed on the feet of Waruru inside the area but his low shot was punched out to safety by the retreating custodian as the sides went to the break 1-0.
Three minutes after the restart, Sofapaka skipper, James Situma raced on to a loose ball at the edge of the area after referee Amos Ichingwa played the advantage to a foul on Luvualu but his shot cleared the bar.
It took only three minutes for the match to turn on its head in a dramatic sequence of events.
First, a brilliant piece of individual skill from George Oyoo in midfield unlocked the stubborn Sofapaka defence as he turned Mieno inside out, advanced to the box before threading a through ball to Lawrence Owino.
Owino’s shot was repelled at point blank range by Ochieng in the Sofapaka goal but Evans Amuoka reacted fastest to tuck the rebound in for the leveller on 51 minutes.
From the restart, Mieno who had been booked for dissent in the first half was sent off for another vocal volley at the referee and two minutes later Sofapaka were inexplicably ahead when Baraza got to the end of a sweeping counter attack to score low past Ochieng.
Luvualu made the goal when he tore down the right frank as Ulinzi’s defenders took ages to retreat back from a corner before sending a precise low cross for the veteran forward who duly took his tally to six goals.
Ulinzi turned on the pressure as the man advantage told with Nyangweso sending in Wycliffe Ochomo for Owino and the burly forward had his first chance in the 63rd heading over from three yards.
Seven minutes later, he found the net but the goal was ruled out for a marginal offside after he got his head to an Okoyo delivery following a short corner and 60 seconds later, he was again busy in the box as he went for the ball with Sofapaka’s Felly Mulumba.
Ichingwa spotted the brazen handball by Mulumba even before Ochomo had forced another save from Ochieng and rightfully pointed to the spot.
Mulinge stepped up and atoned for his shaky display at the back by sending the penalty high past the Sofapaka custodian for 2-2.
Another deliberate handball from Juma saw substitute Kevin Amwayi send in a vicious free-kick that Ochieng had to parry away as Ulinzi players lined up to finish.
That set the stage for the breathtaking end to the match as a seemingly innocuous foul from long range invited Juma to try his luck and his shot was turned into the net by the Ulinzi custodian who had badly positioned himself.
The win moved Sofapaka level on points with leaders AFC Leopards as the 2010 champions’ woes continued in what was surely, Nyangweso’s last match in charge.
Ulinzi are set to unveil their Technical Director, Yusuf Chippo who led the club to three titles in the early 2000s as his replacement.