NAIROBI, Kenya, July 22- Relegation threatened Nairobi City Stars has warned Kenyan Premier League defending champions Gor Mahia to expect a tough contest when the two sides face-off on Sunday at Nyayo National Stadium.
City Stars head coach Richard Tamale Pinto is confident he can pick a leaf from the performance his side has had over the last two matches, adding they don’t fear K’Ogalo despite entering the clash as favorites.
“Football is a game of 11 men on the pitch. Gor Mahia might be seen as the favorites because many think we are a small team, but on the pitch things will be different. I have told my players they are also as big as Gor Mahia players and they have ability to win that match,” Pinto, who took charge of the team in June, warned.
City Stars’ last win over K’Ogalo was in 2011 but Pinto believes his side has the ability to pick up another three points over Gor, a side they held to a 2-2 draw in the first leg.
He said he has worked on the team’s striking force which has been one of the weak points in his first two matches in charge.
“We have worked hard in training, emphasizing at our finishing. Goals will now start coming from this weekend,” he noted.
The team will be boosted with the return of Ugandan striker Jimmy Bageya who has been one of their best performers over the last two seasons. But even with the return of the diminutive winger, Tamale says danger will not necessarily come from him.
“I know they might decide to mark him (Bagaye) but I know I have many secret weapons. They definitely will expect Jimmy to play, but I will surprise them,” he added.
They come up against a Gor side that has been fluffing in the last two matches, being held to consecutive draws by Kakamega Homeboyz and Ushuru FC.
The defending champions are five points off leaders Tusker FC and another match without a win will build more pressure on them.
“There is pressure already because this team has demands. As players we know that too well and we have our minds set on winning. The morale and the players are very positive and so we expect better results on Sunday,” Gor captain Musa Mohammed said.
Ugandan midfielder Geoffrey Walusimbi has returned after recovering from injury picked up from a motorcycle accident but might not be available as he has only been training lightly on the sidelines.
Gor will be out to win and hope on the other end leaders Tusker drop points as they play away to Sofapaka at the Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos.
The relegation threatened ‘Batoto ba Mungu’ picked a point last weekend against Kakamega Homeboyz away from home and having lost to Tusker 0-1 in the first leg, the team will be angling for revenge.
“That point against Homeboyz showed some level of progress and hopefully, we can look up to a win. We expect a tight match but with the experience of the players I recruited, I know we can handle the big game pressure,” Sofapaka tactician David Ouma said.
-AFC v Sony-
Meanwhile, Sony Sugar will be boosted by the return of defender Kevin Oluoch and skipper Sylvester Wanyama who have been nursing calf and knee injuries respectively over the last two weeks as they prepare to face AFC Leopards on Saturday.
Head coach Salim Babu is elated with the availability of the two who have been a great pillar of his team and he is upbeat of picking up three points against a resurgent Leopards.
“We know it is a tough match but the level of confidence we have in the team is promising. Our target has been to finish within the top eight and the target now is to win as many matches as possible. We can beat Leopards,” the soft spoken tactician said.
Sony are placed ninth, just a point below eighth placed Chemelil who are on 24 points. The Sugar Millers will be at home to Homeboyz and coach Francis Baraza hopes for three points to push further from the chasing pack led by Sony.
Baraza has heaped praise on veteran midfielder Hillary Echesa who has been a vital part of the team, winning them all their last seven points. Echesa scored the winner in the game against AFC Leopards and Sofapaka, while he scored the last gasp equalizer last weekend against Tusker.
“He has shown good leadership on and off the pitch and for me, he has been one of the best players in the team. He is the reason we have performed this way especially talking to the young boys and encouraging them,” Baraza said.
KPL Weekend fixtures
Saturday: Mathare United v Thika United, AFC Leopards v Sony Sugar (Nyayo Stadium, Nairobi), Chemelil Sugar v Kakamega Homeboyz (Chemelil Complex), Western Stima v Posta Rangers (Moi Stadium, Kisumu).
Sunday: Sofapaka v Tusker FC (Kenyatta Stadium, Machakos), Bandari v Muhoroni Youth (Mbaraki Complex, Mombasa), Ulinzi Stars v Ushuru FC (Afraha Stadium, Nakuru), Gor Mahia v City Stars (Nyayo Stadium, Nairobi).