NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 29 – Kenyan Premier League defending champions Gor Mahia survived a late scare from Western Stima to beat the powermen 3-2 to extend their lead on top of the standings and warm up nicely for next weekend’s Mashemeji Derby against rivals AFC Leopards.
Gor had comfortably led 3-0 with early goals from Boniface Omondi, Kenneth Muguna and Nicholas Kipkurui, but Stima waged a comeback war that came inches close with goals from Baron Oketch and youngster Benson Omala.
The result leaves the holders pegged at the top with a seven-point buffer between them and second placed Kakamega Homeboyz who play Nzoia Sugar at their Bukhungu Stable on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Tusker FC saw their title hopes suffer a blow after being held to a 2-2 draw away to relegation fighting Kisumu All Stars.
In other fixtures, Ulinzi Stars beat Sofapaka 1-0 in Machakos while in Kericho, AFC Leopards also warmed up for the derby with a nervy 1-0 victory over Chemelil Sugar.
Meanwhile at Kasarani, Gor looked set for a huge pay day against Stima.
Within the opening 13 minutes of the game, K’ogalo already looked set to secure maximum points with Omondi, Kipkurui and Muguna hitting the back of the net.
Gor started the party in the third minute, Omondi striking into the net with a deft low shot from inside the box. Six minutes later, Muguna doubled Gor’s advantage when his shot from inside the box took a heavy deflection in the midst of a forest of legs inside the box to roll into the bottom left.
The defending champions were in cruise control, and were pinning Stima in their own half.
They were 3-0 up in the 13th minute in the most comical of fashions. Keeper John Njau, under no pressure took too much time with the ball after controlling a back pass and his attempt at playing the ball wide was intercepted by Lawrence Juma who squared for Kipkurui to tap into an empty net.
For a team that had held the defending champions to a draw in the first leg, it was a shocking result in the corresponding tie.
They attempted to get themselves back into the tie and had an opportunity in the 23rd minute. However, Benson Omala’s header from a Sydney Ochieng freekick from the left didn’t trouble Fredrick Odhiambo much in the Gor goal.
Infuriated by the lethargic display his charges were putting into the tie, Stima coach Salim Babu made changes, Vitalis Akumu being hauled off for Kevin Akongo with just 27 minutes off on the clock.
The changes looked to bring result as the powermen played with a better structure especially in midfield where they now found some balance.
Two minutes to the break, they pulled one back when Oketch scored against the side he previously featured for, striking from the penalty spot after Omala had been axed inside the area by youngster Elvis Ronack.
Oketch almost scored a second at the stroke of halftime when he turned into the inside from the left, but his curling effort was turned behind for a corner by Odhiambo’s strong right hand in goal.
In the second half, Gor kept on the front foot and nearly came close to a fourth 14 minutes after the restart, but this time Njau’s comical keeping wasn’t as disastrous.
A long range shot from Lawrence Juma slipped through the custodian’s butter fingers but luckily for him the ball bounced inches wide.
But Stima were relentless in their chase. They pushed Gor to defend deep and created chances. Substitute Stephen Onyango had brought some punch into attack and he had a shot deflected wide in the 70th minute after some promising build up at the edge of the box.
Four minutes later however, they were within touching distance of an equalizer when youngster Omala banged the ball inside the net after reacting quickest when keeper Odhiambo spilled a shot from Onyango.
Suddenly, Gor who were comfortably in the lead in the opening 13 minutes of the game were living dangerously. Their passing became erratic and their fighting spirit seemed punctured as Stima raised their levels.
But, Babu’s men could not take the dance to the last beat as Gor held on for the nervy win.