NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 7 – Gor Mahia head coach Steve Polack says he classifies the Mashemeji Derby as the best he has been involved in both as a player and a coach, even as he looks to chalk a second win over their arch rivals AFC Leopards on Sunday at Kasarani.
Polack took charge of his first derby last November when K’Ogalo annihilated Ingwe 4-1 and though he wants to pick a second consecutive win, he knows it will not come easy this time round.
“I have been in a few derbies but this rates as one of the top derbies I have played and coached in. Everything goes out of the window when you are playing this game. Statistics and form do not matter and it’s the team that wants it all which wins it,” Polack told Capital Sport.
He added; “The passion that comes with playing this game in and out of the pitch is immense .”
Gor has domineered over their arch rivals over the last eight meetings, winning seven and drawing one and have not lost to their rivals since March of 2016.
Looking forward to Sunday’s game, Polack knows it will not be easy and is wary of the threat posed by a Leopards side that has won four of their last five games.
“It is always tough when we are playing against anyone but playing against your derby rivals makes it even harder. This is like a Cup Final and we have to throw everything at it. If they give 120pc, we need to give 150pc,” the tactician affirmed.
While AFC have been on a roll, Gor have huffed and puffed over their last five games, winning three, drawing and losing one each. Their wins also have not come easy as they have been run close.
They beat both Zoo Kericho and Western Stima 3-2 with the former coming off a losing position while thrashing Nzoia Sugar 3-0. Their loss was at the hands of Sofapaka, a 3-1 spanking while their draw was against Stima in the reverse fixture in Kisumu.
But despite the fine margins, Polack is still pleased that they are able to win, though he admits that conceding too many goals has been a worry for him.
“If we can win 3-2 or even 5-4, the most important thing is that we have the three points. But definitely as a coach there is a concern over the number of goals we have been conceding and most of them have come from individual mistakes,” the coach explained.
“This is down to concentration and we have put lots of chats in training and talks and we know where we are going wrong and we have been trying to rectify. Hopefully Sunday we can keep a clean sheet,” he states.
His hope for a clean sheet will be boosted with the return of defender Joash Onyango who had been out for two games on suspension. Polack says the return of the ‘Berlin wall’ will be a big boost especially in such a game that needs balls and experience.
“Joash is a big player and a huge leader in the team and if you miss players like that it is always a bit tough. He is a rock for the team and he brings in a lot more stability in the defending,” Polack notes.
The only absentees in Polack’s side will be defenders Wellington Ochieng and Philemon Otieno. While Otieno has returned training after almost six months out, Ochieng’s season seems over after picking up a knee injury.
“Philemon is back training well, but I cannot risk bringing him back in the team. We have a friendly game next week and I want us to give him some minutes so he can pick up match fitness and we could decide whether he can be available for the next game,”
“As for Wellington, he is not even training so it might be that we might not have him for the rest of the season,” Polack opined.
The right back position is one that has been a headache for the tactician especially with the injury of the duo. He tried off with an experiment of playing Bernard Ondiek, one that worked out well for the last derby but of late, he has opted to play Geoffrey Ochieng after the arrival of Mike Apudo in mid-season.
The coach says he prefers Ochieng despite the fact that he is a left footed player playing on the right side of defense as his qualities are better.