NAIROBI, Kenya, June 12- Not even the return of Stephen Waruru would inspire Ulinzi Stars as the military side were held to a goalless draw in the first-leg of the KPL Top 8 Semi-final at the Nyayo National Stadium on Sunday.
Ulinzi missed a penalty and hit the woodwork twice in a frustrating afternoon that saw the Robert Matano men underperform.
The Soldiers are seeing the Top 8 Cup as the first step in quenching a five year domestic drought but will now have to dig deeper within their energy reserves to see that dream fulfilled with the second leg set for next weekend.
Ben Sande was handed a starting node partnering Geoffrey Kokoyo at the heart of the Ulinzi defense with Omar Mbongi drifting to left-back.
Winger Ezekiel Otuoma also made his first appearance for the side after being out for the first six months of the season nursing a knee injury.
Congolese forward Demonde Selenga found a spot in stand in coach Tom Juma’s starting line-up for Muhoroni, while Wycliffe Nyangechi was slotted at right-back taking up Wellington Ochieng’s spot with the latter joined champions Gor Mahia.
After a contemplative quarter hour of a start, the game grew in pace with Muhoroni bossing possession while the military side were more efficient in attack creating chances.
Ulinzi’s best chance of the game came in the 18th minute from the penalty spot after keeper Farouk Shikhalo pulled down Enosh Ochieng inside the box after he lost possession.
However, Shikhalo made amends by strongly springing to his left to keep of Kevin Amwayi’s effort from the spot.
Two minutes later, Ulinzi still bleeding from the penalty loss came close with Daniel Waweru’s shot rolling over the crossbar after meeting the ball at the far post with his weaker left foot.
Amwayi’s confidence was greatly tainted after missing the penalty and his usual effectiveness with pace on the wings was a miss with the winger losing many balls on the counter.
Ulinzi came close again in the 32nd minute, this time Boniface Onyango’s header coming off the crossbar after rising to meet a Waweru corner.
At the start of the second half Matano had had enough of Amwayi’s below par performance in the opening half and hauled him off for Waruru.
Muhoroni responded by bringing in new signing Andrew Ssekayombya for Selenga as Juma sought to pump some energy in attack.
The introduction of the Ugandan aided Muhoroni with more firepower going forward and top scorer Wycliffe Ochomo, who all evening cut a lone figure upfront, finally had someone to help.
However, none of the two sides could master a way past the other’s defense with Waruru having two shots saved by Shikhalo while on the other end, Ochomo and Lwamba Bebeto failed to break through.
Ulinzi will need at least a scoring draw in the second leg to progress to the final as they started the first leg away.