NAIROBI, Kenya, April 5 – Super-sub Charles Okwemba’s first touch forced Bandari defender Omar Islam to turn the ball into his own net in the third minute of added time as AFC Leopards secured passage to the Kenyan Premier League Top 8 semi-finals with a 1-0 win at Nakuru’s Afraha Stadium on Saturday.
With an eye on post-match penalties to decide the winner of a keenly contested encounter, Ingwe coach James Nandwa hauled in Okwemba and seconds later, the midfielder’s low cross in the box was turned into the net by the retreating Omar with the substitute turning into an instant hero among the Leopards faithful who chanted his name to the nines.
“This is the luck this team needed. Even if we lost this game today, we would not have deserved it since we created many chances and we have been doing so. This could be our turn around, an own goal in the last minute could be our motivation.
“I keep saying this team needs time and it will deliver and fans need to be patient. I’m happy this has happened because I knew it was a matter of time things went our way,” under fire head coach, James Nandwa, said after the final whistle sparked huge celebrations on the Leopards’ bench.
Although Bandari’s forays upfront were at a premium, their coach, Twahir Muhiddin was seconds away from getting to contest the lottery of penalties on their Top 8 debut before Okwemba’s intervention.
“We did not play well and we deserved to lose but there is nothing to worry about because there is much to play for in the remainder of the season,” the former Harambee Stars head coah told.
In truth, the defensive discipline that saw the Dockers topple Gor Mahia last weekend in the KPL almost reaped dividends as Leopards were restrained to a point of silencing their vocal fans.
Leopards dominated for the better part of first-half with Jacob Keli, coming close in the 35th but last year KPL top scorer could not apply the finish allowing defenders to clear the danger.
Three minutes later, Keli was at it again squandering another chance in the box after receiving a fine pass from Nigerian Austine Ikenna, but he placed his shot wide.
In the 41st, winger Paul Were thought he had scored after receiving a pass from Keli, only for referee to rule the effort off-side.
Two minutes later, Ali Bai, could give the Dockers the opener with his well taken free-kick that beat keeper Martin Musalia, only to see his effort hit the cross bar as both went to the breather locked at 0-0.
In the 50th minute, Duncan Otewa was forced to clear the ball off Keli’s feet after Were brought in a corner from the left flank.
Musalia had to rise to the occasion and keep Leopards in the game after rescuing substitute Ibrahim Kitawi’s free-kick.
Leopards are now through to the two-legged semi-finals of Top-Eight and will wait to see their opponents after all the preliminary matches are complete.
On Sunday, defending champions Tusker FC will take on Sofapaka in the second knock-out match at Nairobi’s Nyayo National Stadium.