NAIROBI, June 7 – AFC Leopards continued to defy all odds when they survived an embarassing match day strike by players to mow down title-chasing Sofapaka 1-0 on Sunday in the most extraordinary of circumstances.
Ugandan forward, Karim Ndungwa, was forced to goal keep after regular and Harambee Stars custodian, Wycliffe Kasaya joined regulars who refused to turn up for their final Kenyan Premier League (KPL) first-leg tie before going on to be the unlikely hero when he saved veteran striker John Baraza’s penalty.
Leopards triumphed when Abdoul Yourou netted an own goal in the 74th minute, after tapping in Lamin Diallo’s cross before the Ingwe player was sent off nine minutes later for clearing a Sofapaka goal bound shot with his hand.
Drama started unfolding when Leopards failed to have a quorum after only nine players turned up, forcing Broadcast rights holders, SuperSport to postpone the match forward by an hour from the scheduled 3pm local time (+3GMT) kick-off.
The players had earlier threatened not to honour the match until their four month salary arrears were settled, but some of them mostly foreigners started walking into the stadium one by one with heads bowed down.
Meanwhile, irate Ingwe fans turned their outrage on serving national executive committee members whom they blamed for the crippling the Kenyan giants financially this season.
“(Prof. Asava) Kadima must go! (George) Aladwa must go! (Timothy) Lirumbi must go! (Alex Ole) Magelo wetu! Magelo wetu” rent he air as Sofapaka continued their extended warm-up.
Two factions are battling for the control of the club whose chairman, Allan Kasavuli resigned in a huff a fortnight ago with the remaining top officials, secretary general, Aladwa his assistant Asava and organising secretary Lirumbi who have opposed the interim team placed by the departed chairman incurring the wrath of the agitated supporters.
With head coach Zdravko Logarusic finally having 14 players at his disposal, there was no sign of the match kicking off and it took the intervention of former chairman Magelo and interim chairman Amin Walji who were handed the club by Kasavuli to address them in the dressing room before they agreed to field.
With first-choice keeper Kasaya and his reserve Joel Bataro failing to turn up, striker Ndugwa volunteered to wear the gloves, leaving Logarusic with only Dialo, Emmanuel Ngama and Clement Mata on the bench.
Despite the challenges, Leopards captained by Musa Mudde outshined Sofapaka who had only two shots on target in the first-half before the deciding goal came after pilling more pressure after the break to end Batoto Ba Mungu’s 10-match unbeaten run.
Leopards controlled the midfield with Mudde the chief destroyer, setting up Khalid Jumaan who headed wide in front of goal in the 15th.
The Ugandan and winger Timonah Wanyoyi failed to hit the target before Noah Wafula missed a point blank header with Sofapaka custodian Evariste Mutuyimana gathering with ease.
With their top striker, Burundian Fiston Abdul Razak already departed for South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns, Blessings Henshaw failed to beat Ndungwa twice when opportunity arose.
The first chance came in the 20th after the makeshift keeper punched a long ball in the box but Henshaw blazed the rebound wide before Abdallah Juma cleared his header off the line after Ndungwa spilled the ball.
Sofapaka resumed on a high but could not carry on the momentum as Henshaw squandered another glorious chance to blast wide with Ndungwa well beaten.
Head coach, Sam Timbe did a surprise substitution when he withdrew the wasteful forward for reserve keeper Barnabas Tiema who played as a forward for the first time to continue the crazy theme of the game.
Logarusic responded with a double change of his own, pulling out Jumaan and Wafula for Diallo and Ngama as he sought pace in attack.
Ngama ripped apart Sofapaka’s back-line twice only to be denied by Mutuyimana but the defence finally crumbled, conceding and own goal after the keeper failed to pick Diallo’s cross from the right to give Leopards a deserved lead.
With only nine minutes to the final whistle, Sofapaka were handed the chance to equalise when Ingwe conceded a penalty after Diallo cleared a goal bound with his hand to leave referee Amos Ichingwa no alternative to but to point at the spot.
Veteran Baraza stepped up but was sensationally denied by Dungwa who punched away the penalty to spark off delirium among the Ingwe faithful.
Ndugwa went on to save Maurice Odipo and skipper Felly Mulumba’s efforts as they held on for the win and after the final whistle Leopards’ faithful ivaded the pitch and hoisted him shoulder high, this time signing ‘Kasaya must go! Kasaya must go! Kasaya must go!