Chemelil Sugar leaves Gor Mahia with bitter taste
SportPesa Premier League champions Gor Mahia opened their title campaign with a barren stalemate against stoic visitors Chemelil Sugar at the Moi Stadium in Kisumu on Wednesday, extending their win-less run this year.
A 0-0 draw against the often stubborn sugar millers ordinarily would not be considered a disastrous start to the campaign for K’Ogalo who are bidding for an unprecedented fourth successive title save for the backroom woes inside the club that have plunged their season into disarray early on.
Coming from a potentially fatal 2-1 home defeat to Madagascan side CNaPs in the preliminary round of the 2016 CAF Champions League, Francis Baraza’s side were not in the mood to give the champions a soft landing after building an obdurate rearguard against a side that looks bereft of ideas in attack.
Keeper Boniface Oluoch was dropped from the starting line-up after a reported tunnel bust-up with head coach Frank Nuttall who is fighting to retain his job amid a furious row with the club’s top management, the most telling sign yet of discontent in the K’Ogalo ranks despite repeated denials.
In his place, club captain, Jerim Onyango, earned plaudits by keeping a clean sheet and preventing the champions from enduring a nightmare start against a Chemelil side that had promised to give them a tough afternoon at their spiritual Kisumu backyard.
Nutall joined his team late after he was detained at a Nairobi hotel for non-payment of the bills and having led the side to sweep all before them domestically in last season’s unbeaten run, his magic seems to have run dry with the stalemate following a DStv Super Cup defeat to Bandari and the CNaPs reverse that brought them to the brink of early elimination from the continental showpiece.
The Scotsman made three changes to the team with Francis Kahata, the most expensive player in Kenyan Premier League history, making his debut partnering Ronald Omino upfront as Jacob Keli who was ineffectual last weekend relegated to the bench as Onyango took the gloves from Oluoch who was reportedly ‘injured’.
Both teams struggled to impose themselves in the first 15 minutes and the opening half passed by with barely a shot on target, suiting the sugar millers who were content to sit deep and allow the champions enjoy sterile domination.
Veteran Hillary Echesa and George ‘Blackberry’ Odhiambo traded free-kicks for Chemelil and Gor that flew haplessly over the target in the only notable attacking forays of the first 45.
At the hour mark, Kahata sprung into action as Gor pressed, feeding Enoch Agwanda who fired well wide before Musa Mohammed cleared a dangerous Chemelil raid on the other end three minutes later with the tempo picked.
Soon after, Omino had a shot saved and Nutall hauled in Keli for Agwanda and Eric Ouma for the former in search of the crucial opening goal in the 68th but they almost fell behind two minutes later when veteran Hillary Echesa let rip from range only for Onyango to produce a top draw save.
The players went out for a water break with 15 to go in the backing hot conditions of Kisumu and upon resumption, Edmond Murai made way for Collins ‘Gatuso’ Okoth in the Gor midfield as Nutall played his last trump card.
With six minutes to go, Ouma spurned the chance to be the hero when he beat his marker on the left flank only to produce a poor delivery that spilled harmlessly wide as both sides settled for a point that was better received by Baraza and his boys.
The inquest into the champions and their ability to chase history will rumble on for now as the absence of last season’s deadly attacking triumvirate of Michael Olunga, Meddie Kagere and Victor Ali Abondo who have moved on to pastures anew continues to bite.
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