THIKA, Kenya, Dec 21- Onwudi Chibueze’s deflected goal four minutes from time handed Thika United a massive advantage in the relegation and promotion play off against Ushuru as they beat the taxmen 2-1 at their Thika Stadium backyard.
Thika will now need any kind of draw in the return leg in Narok on Sunday to retain their Premier League status.
Thika went ahead through Saad Musa who had come on for Michael Mutinda while Ushuru restored parity in the second half through former AFC Leopards striker Mohammed Hassan. However, Chibueze ensured his side went ahead in the 85th minute.
The play-off was scheduled by Football Kenya Federation just two days after the Sports Disputes Tribunal threw out Thika United’s petition challenging the game.
They had gone back to the tribunal last evening seeking a review of the judgment but the same was yet again thrown out.
On the pitch, Thika United were visibly jaded off especially after Training for just a day and coach Nicholas Muyoti admitted as much.
“As a coach it is very difficult when you play after training for one day. We had already gone for break and we just assembled yesterday. But I am happy with the boys and I thank God we managed to win possibly we can finish the job on Sunday,” Muyoti said after the match.
Ushuru who finished third in the National Super League started off positively and had two chances in the opening 10 minutes.
In the second minute, lanky striker Benson Amianda dribbled to the edge of the box from the middle of the pack but his eventual shot went awfully wide. Five minutes later, Barrack Odhiambo was put through by John Macharia, but his shot was weak going straight to Eliud Emase in goal.
Thika were dealt a major blow in the 13th minute when midfielder Michael Mutinda picked up an ankle injury and was replaced by Saad Mussa.
Mussa proved his worth with just 15 minutes on the pitch when he slapped the ball home from inside the box after Chibueze’ initial shot off a Eugene Mukangula cross was saved by the keeper.
Chibueze almost doubled Thika’s lead two minutes later when he sprinted away on the left before cutting in to his favorite right foot but the effort was well saved by the Ushuru keeper at his near post.
In the second half, Thika started well and Chibueze had another chance when he was put through by Mukangula at the edge of the box but his short skied.
From then, it was Ushuru all the way and Thika defended with their lives.
Thika keeper Emase was forced into a brilliant save in the 63rd minute, punching away with one hand a fierce Oscar Mbugua shot from an Amianda cross.
The introduction of Hassan for the ineffective Rosevelt Blaty paid dividends with the forward striking a superb left footer from 15 yards out after the Thika backline failed to clear a corner.
Ushuru piled bodies upfront in search of the winner but were caught off against the run of play in the 86th minute, Mussa putting Chibueze through with the striker taking a first time shot that deflected off an Ushuru defender and into the net