NAIROBI, Kenya, June 9 – Are AFC Leopards back on track after securing a 3-1 win over arch rivals and champions Gor Mahia in the KPL’s ‘Mashemeji’ Derby first leg? This is definitely the big question every football enthusiast is asking.
Captain Martin Imbalambala and midfielder Charles Okwemba, sent a warning to clubs that had ruled them out of the contention.
“We knew how important this match was to us, so all we could do is to win. We are not comfortable in our current position in the league since we don’t belong there but I believe the win against Gor will enable us go back to where we belong,” the lanky defender told Capital Sport.
“I assure our fans to be calm since good results are on the way and I urge my colleagues not to be carried away by this win since we have an unfinished mission ahead of us.
“This win will boost us to perform better in our next matches since we had a good bonding in Sudan so for those who were ruling us out, watch out the space,” Okwemba who was named the man of the match after providing scoring one and providing the assist for the other two goals declared.
The result benefited Tusker FC who cut Gor’s lead at the summit to two points after they overcame Mathare United 3-0 at their Kinoru Stadium back yard in Meru County, despite finishing with 10 men after captain and custodian Samuel Odhiambo was sent off in the 19th minute.
At Nairobi’s City Stadium, 2009 champions Sofapaka dimmed struggling KCB by a solitary goal that was netted by veteran John Baraza to propel Batoto Ba Mungu to fourth on 24 points.
All eyes were focused at the Nairobi’s Nyayo National Stadium where K’Ogalo were the hosts and for the first time after a long period, the Derby ended peacefully unlike other occasions where the clash is marred by violence.
Fans from both sides started converging at different joints in the Central Business District as early as 10am chanting songs in support of their teams as the derby fever swept through Nairobi.
At the stadium, both sets of supporters dutifully settled at their designated places ready for the kick –off and waiting to see who will walk away with the bragging rights.
Struggling Leopards entered the match motivated form the Cecafa Nile Basin Cup where they were losing finalists in Sudan, while for Gor they were seeking to bounce back from losing 2-1 on aggregate to Tusker as their interest in the KPL Top 8 ended at the semis.
The high paced encounter saw the hosts dominate the first 25 minutes with youngster and attacking midfielder Timonah Wanyonyi scoring his first derby goal but they failed to hold on for the win as Leopards outclassed them in the second half.
K’Ogalo felt the absence of holding midfielder Anthony Akumu who signed a six month on loan deal with Sudanese League side Khartoum National FC and winger Shaban Kenga who went back to his Bandari club after completing six months spell at the champions.
This saw veteran midfielder Okwemba and Bernard Mang’oli dominated the midfield especially in the second half where Gor were chasing shadows with Eric Ochieng’ and Wanyonyi failing to catch up with the pace.
Starting with Harun Shakava on the bench for Ugandan Israel Emuge, Gor’s defence was not up to the task as dependable and Stars defender David ‘Calabar’ Owino failed to impose himself.
“I was disappointed by the second goal which should have been defended a lot better so we need to work on the entire defence since we never looked steady especially in the second half.
“Godfrey Walusimbi was overlapping but was not quick to recover and that surely cost us. We will look who is available in this transfer window to strengthen our squad but I’m not going to bring someone for the sake,” Gor head coach Bobby Williamson told.
For Ingwe they seem to have found the solution to their problems through new coach Pieter De Jongh, who came in with new strategy changing the format of play.
He tasted waters in Sudan and according to him he has established a strong starting side. The Dutchman played Joseph Shikokoti in the midfield switching position with Imbalambala who went to the defence.
The combination of Austin Ikenna and Jacob Keli upfront with Okwemba pulling strings behind them in a monster performance undid the champions with the Nigerian import missing a couple of chances that could have put Ingwe three goals up at the break.
Surprisingly De Jongh started with winger Paul Were on the bench and this was on discipline grounds according to the coach.
“When I observed the team in the first two days I joined, step by step I came up with rules since I like discipline in and out the field and that’s why Were started on the bench because he came 20 minutes late for training,” the Dutchman said.
Stars forward Allan Wanga who recently signed with Sudanese side Al Merreikh was not missed in this clash as Leopards clawed through Keli, Ikeena and Okwemba with winger Noah Wafula unused on the bench.
This was the first time leopards beat Gor after three years and for Williamson, he is yet to grab his first ‘Mashemeji’ Derby win since he was appointed mid last season.
Will Ingwe continue with the good form? It will be known when they face KCB in the return leg of KPL Top 8 on Wednesday before inviting Bandari on Sunday in a league match.