NAIROBI, August 12- Next up for AFC Leopards, the fierce Mashemeji Derby against the steamroller that is unbeaten runaway leaders and fiercest rivals, Gor Mahia.
This is hardly the game they would want to approach after a second defeat on the bounce when they went down to Ulinzi Stars 1-0 at Nyayo National Stadium on Wednesday.
A 33rd minute goal from John Makwata was enough to seal victory for the East Africa Military Games-bound soldiers as Leopards were left to lick sour wounds from a fourth match without victory- incidentally, since head coach, Zradvko Logarusic, went on strike and deserted the Ingwe dugout.
“Derbies have their own history; you never know what happens on that day. We will prepare as usual then we see what happens but we would want to carry the spirit we showed here today,” the ever optimistic assistant boss, Yusuf Chippo said.
It was another chastening defeat for the fading, cash-strapped giants left them stuck in fifth as Ulinzi restored the gap at the top to Gor to eight points after the champions initially went 11 clear after dismissing Ushuru FC 2-0 in an earlier SportPesa Premier League clash at City Stadium.
Leopards came to the match having not trained since their catastrophic 2-1 reverse to bottom side Nakuru All Stars last Saturday after the players went on boycott in protest over unpaid dues, the galling chorus of their season.
And ahead of their derby Sunday week against Gor, Chippo was unsure whether his charges will be motivated to train for the biggest game in domestic football or whether Leopards administration will convince the Croat to return to the helm.
“I’m afraid of it also but I believe we will train this week, I don’t know, I don’t know,” he withered, struggling to remain hopeful in the face of what is now a full blown crisis at the Den.
His dejected players congregated midday just to honour the match and had Ulinzi not forgotten their artillery at the barracks, could have drowned in an embarrassing cricket score defeat as keeper Lucas Indeche put a man-of-the-match shift between the sticks.
James Saruni was the first goalkeeper to be called into action saving beautifully Ivan Anguyo’s free-kick from 25 yards out.
Ingwe suffered a deflating setback in the 10th minute when their star and face of resistance in adversity, Bernard Mang’oli was forced to limp out after picking up an injury to his ankle and Solomon Nasio took his place.
Khaleed Jumaan had two good chances for Ingwe but both went begging. His first effort came off a Patrick Kagogo delivery in the 15th but he had a heavy first touch which took him off target allowing the Ulinzi defence to close him down.
His second effort was well picked by James Saruni with the Ingwe forward shooting from range.
All this time, Ulinzi were patient in their attack and they hit on the counter. They were rewarded in the 34th when Amwayi nodded home from a John Nairuka delivery as the Ingwe defence scrambled in vain.
But Leopards had an almost immediate response with Jackson Saleh seeing his header from Kagogo’s corner being pushed to the bar by the impressive Saruni.
From the resultant counter attack, Ulinzi should have made it 2-0 but Amwayi shot wide after an interchange of passes with Nairuka.
Amwayi had another similar chance in the 44th minute, but this time Indeche produce a superb reflex save.
Ulinzi were a recharged side in the second half as they attacked with more intent, Leopards also upping their game.
Nairuka came close five minutes after the restart when he broke away on the left but his eventual shot hit the side netting.
In the 55th, Amwayi was terroriser-in-chief again with his curling effort after turning Fredrick Ndaaka inside out went inches wide.
The introduction of Lamin Diallo for Patrick Kagogo increased the danger as Ingwe now played with three strikers.
But Ulinzi’s defensive shape was not loosened especially with Robert Matano shouting instructions from the touchline.
Indeche was called into action again ten minutes from time with a double save first denying Nairuka from another counter while the rebound from Amwayi was also saved.
Matano brought in Boniface Onyango and Mohammed Hassan for Mark Makwatta and Eric Apul respectively with five minutes of regulation time left, a definite move to seal the defense and hold on to the lead.