NAIROBI, April 12- Eternal rivals AFC Leopards and away side champions Gor Mahia shared a gripping 1-1 draw in the first Kenyan Premier League (KPL) Mashemeji Derby of the season at a packed Nairobi’s Nyayo Stadium on Sunday.
Gor, who saw their perfect start to the season checked by wounded Leopards will have to wait longer to claim local bragging rights as their former coach, Zradvko Logarusic extended his unbeaten run in the biggest match in Kenyan football.
Logarusic who paraded a strong squad to face his former side rallied from a goal down in the first half netted by Ali Abondo to force a share of the points after Jacob Keli tapped in the equaliser in the second half.
“We had a number of chances on both halves they did likewise but they tried to get us on the breakaway because they have speedy forwards.
“We were denied penalty in the second half when Meddie Kagere was brought down so I felt we could be 2-1 up but I’m proud with the boys.
“It was never going to be easy being a derby, I know many were expecting us to win going by our good start but Leopards are also a good side,” Gor head coach Frank Nuttall who led his side for the first time in the fierce clash declared.
Logarusic on the other hand was content with the point that leaves them trailing Gor by four points with the champions leading the KPL standings on 13, one above Western Stima although they have a game in hand.
“Today’s match showed Kenya doesn’t deserve to lag behind in the Fifa rankings going by the talent we have seen. We should even be in top ten in Africa and that means together with other local coaches we are trying to improve Kenyan football. The game could have gone either way and a draw isn’t bad.
“I made some tactical change in the second half which really improved our play because I realized we must bring in experience in the middle since. We created a lot of space for Gor in the first half especially when Abondo scored. It’s a good result considering Gor are in better shape but we are rising slowly and for me sky is the limit,” the Croat whose rallied the squad to overcome resent unrest over non-payment explained.
In a departure from past encounters marred by hooliganism, the match ended peacefully despited being stopped for less than three minutes in the 66th when a section of Leopards fans from the famous ‘Russia’ stands threw objects to assistant referee Rafael Nduati.
Veteran centre referee Nasur Doka continued play after the situation was contained in a match that had pomp, flair and the usual fervent support from both sides, with socialite Vera Sidika spicing up the action when she was unveiled as an Ingwelet, the diva supporters of Leopards.
The hosts who entered the match from a 1-1 draw with Thika United, reinstated first choice keeper Wycliffe Kasaya in goal while Keli who also missed last weekend clash started up front.
The hosts started strongly with Gor keeper Boniface Oluoch called into action at least thrice by the hard working Burundian Emmanuel Ngama forcing him to his best stop when he got to the end on Fredrick Ndaaka’s low cross.
K’Ogalo gradually took control of the game, as Ingwe skipper Jackson Saleh nearly turned the ball into his own net twice following right-back Abouba Sibomana’s hard shot and Kagere’s effort.
The Green Army was brought to life by Abondo’s 34th opener when the former Tusker FC attacking midfielder picked Khalid Aucho’s pass that Michael Olunga dummied to place it well to the far corner for his fifth goal of the season.
Five minutes after the break, Austin Ikenna beat Sibomana from the right as his low cross was met by unmarked Ngama who saw his shot tipped away by Oluoch, but the custodian could not stop Keli who smashed home to level matters and resurrect Ingwe faithful who were silenced for over 20 minutes.
Ikenna’s plea for a penalty on Shakava’s handball was not granted as Oluoch denied Ngama while on the other end Kasaya contained Kagere, Okoth and Abondo efforts as Leopards managed to hold on to see Gor drop points for the first time in the season.
In other KPL action on Sunday at Nakuru’s Afraha Stadium, veteran forward John Baraza grabbed a brace to help GOtv Shield champions Sofapaka end their four match winless run after thumping Nakuru All Stars 3-1.
Boniface Akenga netted the consolation in the match where Collins Shivachi opened the scoring for Batoto Ba Mungu.