NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 26- Within a spell of slightly over a month, AFC Leopards suffered identical 3-0 losses at the hands of their bitter rivals Gor Mahia, first in a Kenyan Premier league tie in Nairobi while the second was 824km away in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania during the Super Cup.
The twin losses spur Ingwe on as they prepare to meet K’Ogalo for the third time this season, each of the two sides with contrasting campaigns so far.
Gor Mahia, perched top of the standings with a five point buffer are chasing a record 16th league title while AFC Leopards, 20 points behind are fighting to crawl into the bottom half of the table after a troubled spell that has almost been their signature year in year out.
There is a gulf in class between the two sides, but, as it is in the derby, form counts for nothing.
“We don’t want to remember about what happened last time. This is a new game and we will be going there to fight for our names and redeem our image. Gor are on top, yes, but this is a derby. You never know what will happen,” a confident AFC Leopards head coach Robert Matano said.
Matano and his nemesis Dylan Kerr were both not with the team during the past two derbies. However, Matano is not new to the Mashemeji Derby having coached Ingwe before.
“It is a game like any other but with some special attachment. This is a game that we have to win and we will work hard to win,” the tactician, oft referred to as ‘The Lion’ noted.
Ingwe come into the fixture on the backdrop of back to back wins, having beaten Wazito FC 7-1 to progress to the GOtv Shield final last weekend before building it up with a 1-0 over KPL defending champions Tusker FC in midweek.
Matano says the two victories have propelled their confidence and they will be ready to down Gor, who on paper are clear favorites.
The 15-time KPL champions are on a roll of five wins in a row and have shown class since the arrival of Kerr who previously managed Simba SC in Tanzania. The tactician already has a feel of what an East African Derby tastes having been on the touchline once in the Dar derby pitting Simba and Yanga.
“It was great. We lost 2-0 but we battered Yanga that day. Everyone in the stadium gave us a standing ovation,” Kerr joked as he reminisced on the experience.
He expects an equal atmosphere on Sunday afternoon when he leads his charges out at Nyayo Stadium, and has vowed to ensure the perfect run he has put under his coat continues.
“I have been told it has an electric atmosphere and definitely I know what a derby means to the fans especially having been involved in some myself. We need to get out there and give a fight and get a win; one to maintain our position on the table and two for our fans,” Kerr noted.
He expects lots of energy from AFC Leopards having watched them play a few times this season including their weekend 7-1 win over Wazito in the GOtv Shield, a game he says impressed him.
But the Englishman is already throwing jabs at his rivals, referring to them as a mid-table team.
“They have absolutely nothing to lose because they are mid table but I respect them because it’s a local derby. I know what it’s all about and we have to make sure we have the focus for the game to win and stay top of the league,” Kerr, with a fade of confidence on his smiling face added.
Over 18 league derbies since 2009, Gor Mahia has won half of them while AFC Leopards have managed only five victories. K’Ogalo are also the highest scoring team in the derby having found the back of the net 26 times against AFC’s 18.
AFC’s last win against Gor was in March last year, the first leg of their two league meetings.
Gor Mahia’s biggest ammunition this season has been their water-tight midfield. Ernest Wendo, arguably the best defensive midfielder in the league has been a gem for K’Ogalo, ensuring that his back three is always shielded well.
Kenneth Muguna has been given the freedom to move courtesy of Wendo’s perfect run in the holding role and his performance against Posta Rangers in midweek was a master-class of what the reigning KPL player of the year can deliver.
AFC haven’t had a midfield as fluid as Gor’s and for them to stand a chance of winning on Sunday, they need to get the formula right at the centre of the pack.
Duncan Otieno missed the midweek win over Tusker but is expected to return on Sunday. The responsibility of breaking down Gor’s solid midfield solely lies on his shoulders. Matano might as well call upon Whyvonne Isuza who was Kenya’s third best midfielder last season.
Gor’s formation of three at the back with Karim Nizigiyimana and Godfrey Walusimbi as wingbacks has been one of the reasons they have been fluid. It is an area AFC have their work cut out.
Dennis Sikhayi has been deployed on the left side of defense despite being a right footed defender, but has done equally well in the new role. The former Western Stima man has been solid in the three games he has featured at left back.
He is expected to deal with the imminent danger brought in by Nizigiyimana and the re-born George ‘Blackberry’ Odhiambo.
The back three of Musa Mohammed, Harun Shakava and Wellington Ochieng will have a new problem to deal with; Alexis Kitenge. The Burundian arrived at AFC in the second leg and with three goals in his name so far has proved to be the goal poacher AFC has always lacked.
Kitenge’s speed and persistence in the final third will be a headache for Gor, especially if he gets the supply he desires.