NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 14- George ‘Blackberry’ Odhiambo’s solo strike in the 42nd minute earned champions Gor Mahia a 1-0 win over ten-man Ulinzi Stars in an ill-tempered match at the Nyayo National Stadium on Wednesday evening.
The military side was reduced to ten men in the 62nd minute after defender Mohammed Hassan was shown a straight red card for an off the ball incident on Gor forward Jacques Tuyisenge.
The result will be a huge relief for Gor head coach Jose ‘Zemaria’ Marcelo who now sees his side move two points behind leaders Tusker FC while Ulinzi’s title hopes now appear to have been dealt their final blow.
After putting up a superb second half show over the weekend against Chemelil Sugar, youngster Amos Nondi was handed a starting berth with left back Eric ‘Marcelo’ Ouma missing with injury.
The soldiers had the earliest opportunity of the game when defender Mohammed Hassan rose high at the far post to hook in an Omar Mbongi free kick but he could not get his technique right as the ball soared over the bar with no one on his shoulders.
Odhiambo had his first attempt at goal in the ninth minute with a bouncing header from a Karim Nizigiyimana cross which went over.
On the opposite end, Enosh ochieng’s attempt to lift the ball over the advancing Boniface Oluoch in the Gor goal was futile with Musa Mohammed who had a superb game in defense rushing to pick the ball up before it went past the line.
Ulinzi keeper James Saruni kept his side in the game with two brilliant back-to-back saves.
First he stuck his left boot out to keep away a first time shot from Tuyisenge who had raced to meet Meddie Kagere’s cross.
Two minutes later, the custodian once again pulled off a great save to deny Odhiambo who had found space inside the six yard box after a beautiful exchange of passes by the Gor side.
Ulinzi grew into the game in the latter stages with Brian Birgen being impressive in his new position as an offensive winger away from his usual right full back slot.
The 21-year-old made a good run into the box with five minutes left before half time, but Ulinzi top scorer John Mark Makwatta could not get a heavy boot behind the ball.
Gor’s early resilience finally paid off in the 41st minute when Odhiambo tapped in at the far post after the Ulinzi backline struggled to clear a cross from Nizigiyimana who had done well to skip over Omar Mbongi on the left.
Kagere came close to doubling the scores at the break but Saruni once again pulled up a great save to tip the ball over for a corner.
The second half proved to be more physical with a scuffle erupting in the 55th minute after Kagere retained the ball after the referee had whistled.
Push came to shove with members of both technical benches racing into the pitch to contain matters with Hassan and Abouba Sibomana almost coming into blows.
Hassan was sent off seven minutes later for a straight red card after the Ulinzi defender was adjudged to have pushed Tuyisenge over as he shielded the ball for his keeper Saruni.
Hassan refused to leave the field of play protesting the decision, but he later went into the dressing room under escort from the stewards.
Stand-in coach Benjamin Nyangweso then made a double sub, bringing on left back Hamissi Abdallah for winger Sammy Onyango, a change that saw Mbongi move into centre back to occupy the slot left by Hassan.
Stephen Waruru also came on for Makwatta but despite the changes, Gor managed to hold on to the slim lead.