Leopards, Nzoia itching to battle for western KPL supremacy
As uncertainty continues to surround the start of the 2017 Kenyan Premier League (KPL) AFC Leopards and promoted Nzoia Sugar are set for a Titanic battle for supremacy in the western region.
Leopards who have won the title 12 times are the established regional giants but their place at the summit of the football mad region was supplanted by their ‘small brothers’ Kakamega Homeboyz last season who finished eighth as Ingwe slumped to lowly 13th.
Two-time national champions Nzoia who hail from Bungoma County on the other hand completed their revival after falling to disgrace when the team went burst in the mid 2000s when they won the National Super League by a canter to earn promotion to the KPL.
Losing only twice the entire season and almost racking up 100 points in the second-tier, Nzoia also went further than Leopards in the 2016 GOtv Shield Cup and are seeking to join the fray to in the race to be crowned the regions’ finest on their first season back on the top flight.
With the pretenders to the throne threatening to upset the order, the Ingwe Empire is ready to claw its way back to the KPL title after hiring Englishman Stewart Hall who has stacked the Den with players aged 25 and younger.
Hoping to keep their ambitions in check, Nzoia are eying a Top 8 finish as their stated target.
Hall put all his eggs in the youth basket hoping to replicate the same results as he did at Tanzanian giants Azam SC whom he led to break the Yanga and Simba SC duopoly.
Newly hired Team trainer Mike Shamiah who led the Kenya Lionesses women’s rugby team to the Rio 2016 Olympics has exuded confidence that Leopards will be among the top five by the close of the first leg before going for the kill in the second.
“We are ensuring that players adopt our three different formations that we are going use this season with the 4-4-2 being the main weapon for our success. We are set to go now that our squad is healthy in all departments,” Shamiah stressed.
Team Manager Timothy Lidonde echoed his sentiments adding the cordial relationship between technical bench and the club’s Executive will play a role to the success of the team.
“We are doing well and happy with our head coach. Hall is a father figure to our young players. We want to forget our 13th finish from last season quickly and come back with a bang,” the former Ingwe player intoned.
Hall has appointed Bernard Mangoli as the team captain in an effort to use his experience to shepherd his young teammates.
Mang’oli who was signed in 2010 from JMJ Academy will be pivotal in commanding his side in their bid to win a first domestic title since 1998 alongside the spine of the side centred around Andrew Tololwa, Allan Katerrega, newly signed Gilbert Fiamenho and Paul Mungai Kiongera.
Across the divide, Nzoia Team Manager, Evans Kadenge maintains their focus will be primarily to qualify in the 2018 KPL Top 8 knockout tournament.
“We are eagerly waiting for the league to commence since our players are itching to show their prowess. We have signed nine new players to reinforce the team that won the NSL,” Kadenge told Citizen Digital.
Nzoia will be banking on custodian Benson Mangala, defenders Brian Otieno and Vincent Nyongesa with captain Peter Gin and Lawrence Juma marshalling the midfield.
Upfront, they are banking on NSL top scorer, Masika Masuta who has remained in situ despite intense speculation with a move away from the alongside Boniface Omondi to fire in the goals.
Nzoia will be using Sudi Stadium as their first choice venue with Mumias Sugar Sports Complex and Kanduyi stadiums listed as their second and third options.
Kadenge denied speculation that NSL title-winning head coach Bernard Mwalala was unhappy with the new Executive Committee voted in at the club preferring the old regime that supported his push to return to the KPL.
As fate would have it Leopards and Nzoia are scheduled to face each other in their opening KPL fixture in Nairobi with the Sports Disputes Tribunal ruling the suspended league should start within two weeks.
That will lay the platform for what could evolve to be an intense, no holds barred battle to be crowned ‘Kings of Western’ at the end of the season.
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