Leopards put Gor on high alert with Bandari win
New AFC Leopards head coach, Belgian Ivan Minnaert started his reign at the Den with an emphatic statement of intent when the 13-time champions floored Bandari FC 1-0 in a fast-paced, top of the bill SportPesa Premier League clash at Nairobi’s Nyayo National Stadium on Wednesday.
The first floodlit league game of the season was ignited soon after kick-off when Kepha Aswani, the much maligned former Harambee Stars forward, pounced to tuck in the only goal of the match after only four minutes, with another much critised player and keeper, Lucas Indeche, epitomising the subsequent rearguard action that saw Leopards move level with leaders Mathare United at the summit on seven points after three games.
It was a stark warning to champions and arch rivals Gor Mahia that Leopards have their claws sharpened to savour title glory this term after living in the slipstream of the three-peat winners ahead of their own crunch encounter on Thursday against domestic giants, Ulinzi Stars in Nakuru .
Looming large over the affair is the eagerly anticipated first Mashemeji Derby showdown of 2016 on Sunday when Kenyan football comes to a standstill to revel in the game of all ages.
The GOtv Shield champions who were tossed out of the CAF Confederations Cup at the same stadium on Sunday when they were forced to a 1-1 draw by Congolese outfit, St. Eloi Lupopo to crash out 3-1 on aggregate in the preliminary round of the competition gave Ingwe a good workout, with Indeche being mobbed by fans after the final whistle for putting a man of the match shift between the sticks.
Ingwe, who unveiled a reported Ksh45m per annum, five year deal with SportPesa as title sponsors, gave their new partners reason to believe in their huge outlay by local standards when a team that was the subject of ridicule last season where they finished seventh hanging their title credentials on the mast.
Bandari FC walked off the Nyayo Stadium in disgust after old boy Aswani scored the lone goal to condemn the coastal side to their first defeat of the 2016 season.
Aswani struck a beauty after just four minutes. Clifton Miheso left Edwin Wafula for dead on the left wing and swung in an inviting cross that Aswani guided home with a deft first time touch.
With their tails up, Ingwe forced four quick corners in five minutes, but the closest they came to a goal was a chance that fell literary on the feet of Simon Abuko who failed to score when it was easier to miss the target.
Bandari came out of their cocoon for the first time in the 19th , their quick counter attack leaving the inexperienced Ingwe defence in sixes and sevens. But the dockers squandered the chance.
After 34 , Lucas Indeche in the Leopards goal fluffed a cross from the right, but again there was no blue shirt near the ball to punish the mistake.
Bandari thought they had a penalty five minutes to the break, but the referee waved play on after defender Andrew Diego seemed to have handled the ball in the box. It was a flurry end to the first half as Bandari rattled the crossbar twice but failed to find the target.
In the second half, Leopards were happy to sit back and soak in the pressure as Bandari threw in everything with no success.
“ We had a lot of chances to win the game, leave alone to equalize. We should have won the game on the pitch, but I think we were not in a football field but in a hospital!! Leopards players were on the ground feining injury with every little touch. It is not fair play,” said Bandari coach Twahir Muhidin.
Bandari rested key players, Musa Mude, Anthony Kimani and George Abege until the second half when they were introduced.
For AFC Leopards, this second win of the season in three matches takes them to the summit of the league alongside Mathare United.
“The first half in the opening 20 minutes was okay. The second half not okay. We need to work very hard to do what we did in the opening 20 minutes in the whole match. My players are not fit, and there is a lot to be done especially in defence and the Midfield,” said AFC Leopards new coach Ivan Minnaert.
This is a morale booster for Ingwe who next play arch rivals Gor Mahia in the first derby of the season on Sunday 6th March.
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