NAIROBI, Kenya, March 28 – AFC Leopards suffered their first loss of the season after going down 1-0 to Ulinzi Stars in a Kenyan Premier League encounter played at Nakuru’s Afraha Stadium on Saturday.
Boniface Onyango netted the winner for the Soldiers in the sixth minute from a close range header to give Ulinzi their second successive victory and climb fifth on six points, a point behind Leopards who dropped to fourth.
In the early kick-off at the same venue, Western Stima beat struggling Nakuru All Stars 1-0 with Fredrick Shimonyo scoring the lone goal in the 56th that propelled Stima to second on nine points same as leaders Gor Mahia who have a game at hand.
Elsewhere, Raymond Ochieng grabbed a hat-trick as Wycliffe Opondo found the target to help Thika United bounce back and beat visiting Muhoroni Youth 4-2 at the Thika Sub County Stadium. Former Gor forward Anthony Nyangor scored a brace for the Sugar Millers.
All focus was on Leopards who had started finding their form despite facing financial challenges that have seen their players take to the field without two month salary and bonus arrears.
“This is our third game in seven days and fatigue overwhelmed us, our players could not move properly and that’s due to lack of proper pre-season. We entered the match without our two starters, Musa Mude and Austin Ikenna since they had personal problems but we are guilty we didn’t convert our chances.
“I saw poor officiating, Kenyan football will never grow, Ulinzi wasted a lot of time and the referee did nothing not even stopping the time,” Leopards head coach Zdravko Logarusic, declared after losing his first match since joining the club last month.
His opposite number Robert Matano, hailed his charges for the win, “We were composed and tactically superior than Leopards. We ensured they didn’t make their runs in the space because they have quality and speedy players who are good at that.”
Ingwe who entered the clash seeking a win that could have seen them topple arch rivals Gor on the standings, had a poor outing after being outplayed by the hosts who ripped apart their leaking defence.
The opening five minutes was an end to end action and it was the visitors who pulled the trigger first with Burundian, Emmanuel Ngama coming close in the second minute when he outpaced two defenders to unleash a right footed shot that went straight in the hands of Ulinzi keeper James Saruni.
Four minutes later, Onyango scored his first goal of the season and give Matano an early lead when he headed past Leopards custodian Wycliffe Kasaya from an Oliver Ruto header.
The hosts could double the lead in the 10th when Ezekiel Seda was booked for hacking down Oscar Wamalwa at the edge of the box, only for John Nairuka to squander the resultant free-kick that was blocked.
Left-back Abdallah Juma came to Leopards’ rescue in the 19th when he headed away Nairuka’s cross that had already beaten Kasaya who was exposed after defender Martin Kiiza miscued his clearance.
Logarusic solidified his midfield by bringing on Clement Kabemba for Seda while Mude came on for skipper Jackson Saleh who picked a knock.
The last chance for the military side in the first period came at the half hour mark through Nairuka who broke through from the right to drive in, only for him to miss the target when he went for glory as Wamalwa was on the goal mouth eagerly waiting to tap in.
Three minutes to the breather, Leopards got their second chance through Jacob Keli who unleashed a thunderbolt that troubled Saruni who recovered to deny the 2013 Player of the Year the equaliser and his third of the season.
Wamalwa and Ezekiel Otuoma wasted several open chances on resumption that could have seen Ulinzi add three more goals whilst on the other end Saruni denied Juma the leveler from a well taken free-kick.
The league continues Sunday with Chemelil Sugar taking on KCB in an early kick-off at Nairobi’s City Stadium before Tusker FC entertains Nairobi City Stars at the same venue.
Ushuru will be away to Sony Sugar at Awendo’s Green Stadium.