NAIROBI, Kenya, July 23- Collins Okoth scored in the last minute of added time as champions Gor Mahia beat a hard fighting Nairobi City Stars 2-1 to bridge the gap between them and leaders Tusker FC to just three points.
The league leaders dropped points for the second consecutive time at the Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos after being held to a 1-1 draw by bottom side Sofapaka with Ugandan Shafik Batambuze cancelled out Moses Odhiambo’s opener.
At the Nyayo Stadium in Nairobi, Okoth poked the ball home from close range after City Stars had failed to clear a long throw from substitute Enock Agwanda.
The ecstasy and relief both for players and fans was evident with a section of the green army storming the pitch after the full time whistle in jubilation as they finally come to within striking range of the leaders.
City Stars had given their all to fight for the vital points off Gor with Ezekiel Odera having equalized immediately after Harun Shakava had given the defending champions the lead.
Head coach Jose Marcelo Ferreira had made changes to his team, Harun Shakava slotting back to defense in place of Luke Ochieng while Okoth made way back to the starting team ahead of Ernest Wendo.
Abouba Sibomana also started at left back, a decision that meant impressive Harambee Stars under-20 utility Erick ‘Marcelo’ Ouma was pushed up on the offensive left.
In the past three matches, Gor had struggled in midfield and Okoth’s return was meant to ensure the side got the much needed stability and flow especially in attack.
The Kawangware based side almost gave K’Ogalo a surprise as early as the fifth minute with keeper Boniface Oluoch coming to the rescue, narrowing the angle and spreading his body to deny Oliver Maloba who had broken through on the right.
Gor were shocked off their slumber by City Stars’ fast paced start as they launched their forward play in earnest.
Meddie Kagere came close in the seventh minute with a little cheeky back-heel from an Ouma low cross that went inches wide. Two minutes later, Ouma came close with chipped ball that was tipped over by City Stars custodian Ronnie Kagunzi.
On the opposite end, Musa Mohammed was forced into a goal-line clearance hitting the ball away after Jimmy Bageya had beaten Oluoch from a speedy run on the left.
It was a fast paced start to the match with both sides giving much in attack with none of them eager to drop points.
Gor were coming off a run of two winless matches and with pressure starting to build up, they were in no mood to drop points again.
City Stars had picked vital points off Posta Rangers and 2010 champions Ulinzi Stars and they were high in confidence, with coach Tamale Pinto saying pre-match he wants to add more misery on Gor’s poor form.
With a strong striking force that had Rwandese forwards Kagere and Jack Tuyisenge, Gor were on paper the best bet to get the goals banging.
The partnership almost bore fruits in the 20th minute when Kagere spotted Tuyisenge inside the box, lifting in a decent cross from the right, but the latter’s bouncing header went straight to Kagunzi.
Gor got into the lead a minute later when Shakava marked his return in emphatic fashion, volleying home from the far post after City Stars failed to clear away a Francis Kahata corner.
But no sooner had the celebrations on the field and on the stands died down than City Stars grabbed an equalizer. From a quick restart, Bageya released Ezekiel Odera inside the box and the former KCB and Sofapaka forward had the easiest of tasks beating Oluoch one-on-one.
The champions came close to winding up the half on a high with Tuyisenge’s strong header from an Innocent Wafula free-kick hitting the upright.
At the start of the second half, coach Ferreira pulled out Wafula who had been wasteful in the first half and brought on Baron Oketch to add some punch in the forward line.
Gor started faster off the blocks, pinning City Stars in their own half. Tuyisenge had a chance in the 55th minute with a free-kick from 30 yards out which Kagunzi stretched to parry for a corner.
On the other end, City Stars who were restricted in their forward movement for most of the second half had their first opportunity in the 71st minute, Bageya having a low shot from the edge of the box go inches wide.
With the clock ticking and an imminent third winless match looking likely, Ferreira went all attack pulling out Sibomana for Enock Agwanda as he went for a three-man attack. The change now saw Ouma drift down to left back.
Ten minutes from time, Oketch came close with a nice swinging shot that went inches above the bar while Agwanda showed his intent with a stinging low shot from 25 yards off that went wide.
Gor piled more pressure with City Stars now defending in numbers as they sought to keep the vital one point to aid their survival battle. Even with six added minutes, Gor were unable to break for a second goal.