NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 29- Ezekiel Otuoma’s 10th minute goal handed Robert Matano the first loss since returning as AFC Leopards coach after his side went down 1-0 to Western Stima at Nyayo National Stadium on Saturday.
AFC had won their first two matches under Matano, a 1-0 league win over Bandari in Mombasa and Wednesday’s 2-1 win against National Super League side Bidco United in the GOtv Shield round of 16.
Matano made only two changes from the team that played in midweek, defender Salim ‘Shittu’ Abdallah starting in defense ahead of Robinson Kamura who picked up injury from a motorbike accident this week while Vincent Oburu started upfront ahead of Samuel Ndung’u.
But it was Stima who are facing the scare of relegation who got into business early enough with Otuoma getting them ahead.
It was a scrappy goal, but nonetheless, Stima would take it. Otuoma nodded the ball home a few inches off the line while still on the ground after Ingwe keeper Gabriel Andika had palmed away the initial shot from Bernard Ondiek on the right.
Stima got just what they needed in the game; take control.
AFC had been off to a good start with Duncan Otieno’s long range drive just within the opening two minutes forcing a full stretched save from Samuel Odhiambo on the Western Stima goal.
It was an end to end swing of the pendulum with both sides going all out in attack and despite getting the early lead, Stima were not shy to go upfront with the speed of Brian Marita and Otuoma on either win causing trouble for the Ingwe backline.
On the quarter hour mark though, AFC had a chance to equalize but Stima keeper Samuel Odhiambo made a superb point blank save to deny Aziz Okaka.
The winger had raced onto the ball at the far post after Salim Abdalla headed it in from a Duncan Otieno free-kick.
On the opposite end, Stima almost got the second against the run of play when a quick transition with some good build up play found Oromchan Villa on the left, but the Ugandan’s low effort went wide.
Burundian Alexis Kitenge then had an effort rattle the crossbar in the 20th minute with only the keeper to beat when the ball fell graciously on his path after Vincent Omumbo’s clearance had struck the back of midfielder Whyvonne Isuza.
From the resultant counter attack mounted by the powermen, Villa should have done better after breaking on the right to cut back the ball to Marita unmarked inside the box but he tried side stepping Abdallah who stretched to pick the ball.
In the 24th minute, Otuoma’s cross from the right after a good run almost resulted in goal number two for Stima but the ball skied a few millimeters off the head of Bernard Ondiek inside the six yard box.
With Kitenge completely kept silent on the AFC forward line, youngster Oburu did most of the work, going back deep in search of the ball but they could still not crack the Stima backline.
Three minutes to half time, Kitenge almost stole a back pass from Joseph Mukisa intended for Odhiambo, bit the keeper managed to slide in and sweep the ball out of play.
Needing some more punch in attack, Matano made two changes at the start of the second half, bringing on Keziron Kizito and Samuel Ndung’u for Isuza and Oburu respectively.
But it was Stima who almost stole the show right at the start, but Villa’s shot after being sent through with a superb through pass by Marita was beautifully saved by Andika.
AFC survived the early scare and took control of the game, pushing Stima into their own half as they vehemently searched for the equalizer. In the 52nd minute, Keziron’s fierce shot from the edge of the box was blocked by Maurice Ojwang.
The home side continued piling the pressure, dumping balls into the Stima area in anticipation of a goal. Kizito was industrious as he drove the team forward but Still, Stima stuck to their guns and guarded their rare with vigor.
With quarter of an hour left, Matano threw in his last dice, pulling out Kitenge for Ray Omondi, a like for like change to bring new feet in attack.