NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 12- AFC Leopards will be without goalkeeper Ian Otieno and winger John Ndirangu for their away trip to Nakuru on Friday where they face Ulinzi Stars at their Afraha Stadium backyard.
While Ndirangu has been ruled out with sickness, stand-in coach Ezekiel Akwana says Otieno has been given time off to attend urgent family matters.
The team though will be boosted with the availability of forward Mungai Kiongera who has missed the last three matches.
Winless in their last four matches, Leopards are under immense pressure to bounce back and avoid relegation which though seems a far-fetched danger.
Ingwe are 12th on the standings on 29 points, 12 off the drop zone and only need two wins of the remaining five games to guarantee themselves survival.
“Our biggest problem has been the mental strength of the players because there has been so much going on in and out of the pitch. We need to restore our confidence back because without it, there’s nothing much we can achieve even if we do everything right,” Akwana said.
The players were chased down into the dressing room by irate fans after their 1-0 loss against Western Stima in their last match before the international break.
Reports of players’ escapades off the pitch had also hit fever pitch with the fans accusing the players of lacking passion for the club.
“We are better now. The two-week international break has given us enough time to reflect and know what is right for us. We have been players before and everything they are going through, we understand. That’s why it has been easier for us to deal with it. I call upon the fans to give us support in the remaining five games of the season so that we finish stronger,” assistant coach Nicholas Muyoti added.
It will be a tough encounter against an Ulinzi side which is also eager to bounce back after back-to-back losses in their last two matches.
“We don’t have much of a choice. We are not in a favorable position on the standings. We had a target of finishing in the top eight and we still have to work on it. The remaining five games are very crucial and I am confident we can be able to pick up,” Akwana stated.
AFC Leopards has not beaten Ulinzi since their 1-0 result in August 2013 but the side is not worried with the grave statistic instead focused on getting confidence back after a torrid season.
In between the two week rest period, they have played three friendly matches, winning 3-0 against second tier side Ligi Ndogo, 6-0 against fourth tier side Metrosports and 4-1 against third tier team Savannah.
“Those matches have boosted our self confidence. Scoring those goals returned belief in our players and I believe we will see a different team when we go to Nakuru on Friday,” Akwana noted.