NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 6 – Harambee Stars legend Dennis Oliech made his debut for Gor Mahia on Sunday evening, playing for 23 minutes as the Kenyan Premier League defending champions settled for a 1-1 draw with Mathare United at the Kasarani Stadium.
Oliech who penned a two year contract with Gor mid this week came on for Nicholas Kipkurui in the 67th minute, and was welcomed with rapturous applause by the K’Ogalo faithful whose specific agenda of the day was to see the forward in action.
Penalties in either half settled the tie with the two sides playing for a third consecutive draw having tied 2-2 home and away last season.
Mathare retained their unbeaten run while Gor’s slow start to the season continued.
Both coaches maintained their strongest possible starting teams with Francis Kimanzi sticking with the side that has won four of their opening five games of the season with exception of the goalkeeping department where he handed new signing Allan Owiny his debut in place of David Okello.
-Oliech on the bench
And talking of debuts, Oktay had on the bench Harambee Stars legend Oliech who was making his first competitive appearance in club football in more than two years.
Fans chanted his name inside the stadium and there was huge applause in the 11th minute when ‘Wuod Mary’ as he was fondly referred to us stood up to go and warm up when striker Jacques Tuyisenge went down with injury.
On the business end of the pitch, the unbeaten Mathare was coming into the tie seeking to continue their recent dominance over the record Kenyan champions who have not beaten them over the last two seasons.
The Slum Boys controlled the early proceedings, sticking to their usual passing game as they sought to exploit the otherwise solid Gor defense through a midfield that looked softened on the day.
They should have gone ahead after 20 minutes when a quickly started freekick found the Gor backline sleeping on their laurels and the ball was spread out to James Kinyanjui on the right, the youngster spreading a beautiful low cross into the six yard box but an onrushing Cliff Nyakeya could not connect.
Mathare won a freekick almost immediately, Kevin Kimani their dead ball specialist swinging one in from the right, but Clifford Alwanga headed over when he towered above the Gor backline.
In the 27th minute, Mathare won a freekick in Kimani territory when the red-hot Nyakeya was hacked down at the edge of the box.
When almost half the Mathare team stood behind the set-piece, it was the 2011 KPL player of the year who had the final say, curling the ball beyond the wall but it went inches wide.
Five minutes later though, Gor were 1-0 up, Tuyisenge converting from the spot.
Boniface Omondi swung a cross from the left which found Lawrence Juma but the midfielder was brought down by the spread hands of debutant Owiny, the referee directing his finger to the spot.
But Mathare had a never say die attitude as they got back into the hunt with more vigour after going behind.
Nine minutes to halftime, they had a golden chance to get back level when Alwanga sent Kinyanjui through on the left, but the winger chose to take a pass instead of a shot at goal when he had cut back to a favorable shooting position.
In the second half, Mathare started off by making changes, Alwanga coming off for Chris Ochieng.
And it took just 12 minutes before the Slum Boys got back into contention, a second penalty in the same box drawing them level. James Situma was hacked down inside the box by Boniface Omondi and once again the ref pointed to the spot.
Kevin Kimani stepped up and in emphatic fashion slammed the ball home beyond Fredrick Odhiambo.
Seven minutes later, they came close when Kimani dived in to head at the back post off a Kinyanjui cross, but Francis Kahata ad done just but enough to give the ball a little brush that took it off Kimani’s eyes.
But came the moment, came the time, Oliech was making a return to the KPL.
The 33-year old was introduced in the 67th minute for Nicholas Kipkurui much to the applause of the fans who had come to see the legend make his debut. Just before that, Gor were forced to bring off Joash Onyango for Pascal Ogweno after he picked up a head injury.
Oliech showed glimpses of his glory days and just a minute of his coming on knocked down the ball for Kahata, but his shot was saved by Owiny.
Gor had two more chances, first Shafik Batambuze’s ferocious shot from the edge of the box being saved by Owiny before Wedno’s volley after a poorly defended corner went just over.
Quarter of an hour to the end Mathare almost sneaked in for a win when Kinyanjui’s cross found Nyakeya inside the box, but the latter’s shot was deflected for a corner.
Tuyisenge should have won the game for Gor in added time when he rose up to miss Omondi’s cross a yard out of goal but he surprisingly nodded over.