NAIROBI, April 11 – Eight matches into the 2016 SportPesa Premier League season, 2009 champions Sofapaka are finding themselves in unfamiliar territory as they sit bottom of the log on three points.
For a side that was perennial title contenders since joining the top flight league in 2009, it is an alarming position but assistant coach John Baraza remains positive the team will not be relegated.
The former club’s forward, who retired at the end of the 2015 season, was in charge of the team on Saturday as they suffered their seventh loss, going down 2-1 against AFC Leopards.
“I’m sure we will survive. We will not be relegated. We are improving every match that we play and ultimately I believe we will recover.
It’s a hard learning path for us because we have an inexperienced team but as we progress, we are getting that vital experience,” Baraza told Capital Sport.
Cash-strapped Sofapaka lost a huge chunk of their first team players at the close of last season, remaining with striker Patrick Mugendi, midfielder Wycliffe Opondo as well as goalkeepers Evariste Mutiyamana and Barnabas Tiema.
Head coach David Ouma and Baraza went on a scouting mission in January and knowing well their inability to lure big names due to their financial constrains, they went for young untested players who have now found the Premier League a tough ring to throw punches in.
“Sofapaka is a big name associated with winning and so we have to go back and see where we can boost our squad so that we can come up and compete well. Losing in itself is a motivation to them because nobody wants to lose,” Baraza, the 2009 Player of the Year said.
“We are in the league to compete so we have no option but continue working hard and ensure we pick up. I still believe in them, they are showing some flushes and it means we are improving,” he added.
Another big side living in relegation fears is Sony Sugar, who is second bottom on three points.
The Sugar Millers lost 1-0 to Mathare United over the weekend, a result that sees the Leonard Odipo charges’ wait for a maiden Premier League win stretch to the ninth match.
“We don’t deserve to be here. We have let politics into the team and put ourselves in a difficult situation but we will continue to fight and hopefully we get things back on track,” Odipo, who is experiencing his first job as head coach declared.
His boss at Tusker FC Francis Kimanzi, who roped him into the coaching said Odipo should be given time to learn the job.
“I feel for him because this is his first time as head coach and he has to learn under very difficult circumstances. I believe he will handle it and come out of it well,” the Mathare United tactician stated.
Kimanzi is enjoying his time at Mathare and the win against Sony kept their title chase alive as they are placed third on 17 points, same as leaders Tusker and AFC Leopards who have a superior goal difference.
Elsewhere, Robert Matano’s unbeaten run was halted as Ulinzi Stars went down 1-0 to Posta Rangers via a Joseph Mbugi penalty.
“Normally we play with speed but today, Makwatta was not moving, Nairuka was very slow and that is why we had to make changes. In the second half we tried to create chances but we couldn’t convert,” a disappointed Matano said after the match.
Ulinzi missed the services of winger Cliff Kasuti who was out with illness to see the military side struggle in the midfield.
The absence of inspirational skipper Stephen Ochollah continues to be visible and it will only remain to be seen whether the duo will be back in the team in June.
Ochollah and former striker Stephen Waruru are lining up for a return after completing their military duties.