Nzoia, Gor the big winners in 2017 KPL roaring start
Newcomers Nzoia Sugar FC lit the first round of the 2017 Kenyan Premier League (KPL) on a weekend where 20 goals were plundered in six matches.
The 2016 National Super League (NSL) winners picked apart the champions Tusker FC 5-2 on Saturday in the highlight of the opening round where record titleholders, Gor Mahia delivered a statement of intent in skinning Kariobangi Sharks 3-1 on Sunday.
While Nzoia proved their mettle on their return to the topflight for the first time in 14 years, other promoted sides- Zoo Kericho, Nakumatt FC and Sharks- all lost on their KPL debut.
Chemelil picked up from where they left last season under new boss, Abdalla Juma, when they silenced Sony at their Awendo backyard in the ‘Sugar Derby’ as title winning Tusker head coach, Paul Nkata and Sammy ‘Pamzo’ Omollo enjoyed winning starts with Bandari FC and Posta Rangers FC.
Francis Kimanzi and Mathare United edged out an error-strewn humdinger away to Thika United 3-2 to round the opening fixture.
Despite their stunning upset over the titleholders, Nzoia Head Coach Bernard Mwalala is confident his team will make an impact as they hope to rediscover the form that saw them win the 2002 and 2003 titles before the club went into administration.
“I told them to play in the style they are used to. You don’t change everything simply because you are playing the title holders. I was happy they soaked the pressure of conceding an early goal and bounced back.
“Beating the champions does not mean you are the best. Every team has been preparing for the season and there could be many upsets ahead. It was however, a good start which gives us confidence that we are here to compete, not to participate,” Mwalala charged.
Quality in his squad was evident, with the likes of NSL top scorer Masita Masuta, Edwin Wafula and Boniface Omondi leaving experienced campaigners in the Brewers rearguard, James Situma and Lloyd Wahome in the shade.
Defeat left questions on the abilities of new Ugandan Tusker coach, George ‘Best’ Nsibe who is yet to win a competitive match since taking over from Nkata.
Nsibe failed to progress past the preliminary round of the 2017 CAF Champions League against little known Mauritius champions AS Port Louis before falling to Gor in the KPL Super Cup and now, the Nzoia humiliation.
The Ugandan has almost the entire double title winning squad from his season at his disposal and some wags are already comparing his team to English Premier League winners Leicester City who are already out of the title race after a spectacular collapse.
“We did not play well since; we failed to take advantage of our lead and allowed them to punish us. The second half was a nightmare for us and we must do something about it.
“It is a different season but it is the worst way for champions to start,” the crestfallen Nsimbe told journalists.
His choice to start with Duncan Ochieng instead of last season’s first choice and Harambee Stars regular David Okello raised eyebrows but the veteran shot-stopper had little cover from his rickety defence.
Spurred by Nzoia, William Muluya and his Sharks took aim at Gor in the battle of the runner-ups from the KPL and NSL at the Thika County Stadium on Sunday.
In the end, the only credit Sharks emerged with from the patchy pitch was escaping a pummelling as the stung record crown holders eased to an easy victory.
While, both sides displayed quality, Gor were superior by all standards as Jose Marcelo ‘Ze Maria’ Ferreira saw his side overcome their bluntness in front of goal by putting three past the Sharks.
“It was a hard match. Normally these small teams will do a lot of running when they come up against big teams. Congratulations to my players, they responded to their game and played well.
“Step by step and with time, I feel the team can come up after that very long preseason and you’ll see the real Gor Mahia,” Ferreira stated post-match.
Rwandese striker Jacques Tuyisenge who came for stinging criticism after his record Ksh4m move last season was among the goals as he seeks to deliver his potential with a roaring start.
Compatriot and new signing Jean Baptiste Mugiraneza and Haron Shakava scored the others as all Gor departments weighed into the scoring act.
With another Rwanda forward, Meddie Kagere and Stars international Francis Kahata relegated to the bench, Gor have an ominous depth in their squad and they will take some beating this season to deny them the crown.
Martin Odongo’s last gasp strike in added time gave Muluya and his team something to build on in their maiden KPL campaign as the coach rued three injury-forced absentees.
He refused to blame seasoned keeper Robert Mboya, an acquisition from Mathare for the loss as he remained optimistic for the upcoming campaign.
“I will concentrate on how we conceded as a team rather than his mistakes. He also made nice saves so I cannot victimize him.
“We missed some of our players who got injured in the pre-season friendlies but the ones who were available did their best,” the former Mathare United Team Manager underscored.
In Mombasa, Nkata led 10-man Bandari to a 1-0 win against other newcomers Nakumatt, despite Anthony Wambani receiving a red card.
It was a timely reminder of how Nkata led Tusker to by upholding defensive discipline with most of the games he played last season ending with slim margins.
Former Gor striker Enoch Agwanda opened his account for the Dockers with Nkata saying he will be pivotal in the aspirations of the 2015 GOtv Shield winners.
Kimanzi attributed their see-saw victory over Thika to the ‘fighting spirit’ in his team.
Despite losing some of his best players of last season team including Eric Johanna, Robinson Kamura and Whyvonne Isuza, the former Stars coach demanded the same character in their forthcoming fixtures.
“We have identified a few mistakes in terms of defending set pieces but that is something that we can work on moving forward.
“However, the win means a lot. It is the kind of result we needed ahead of our next match,” Kimanzi told club’s official website.
Zoo fell short against 10 mailmen as they disappointed their vociferous support at Kericho Green Stadium by going down to Omollo’s men who had Gilbert Wesonga sent-off early in the second half.
Next for Zoo is an away trip to face Gor in Kisumu on Saturday and the task for them is avoiding being cut adrift this early in the season.
Head coach Sammy Okoth is already looking forward to the duel.
“We should have done better; we deserved at least a draw. However, we have to shift focus to our next match that is not easy but we must get something out of it,” he charged.
RESULTS ROUND UP
Bandari FC 1-0 Nakumatt FC
Tusker FC 2-5 Nzoia Sugar FC
Mathare United FC 3-2 Thika United FC
Zoo Kericho FC 0-1 Posta Rangers FC
Sony Sugar FC 0-2 Chemelil Sugar FC
Kariobangi Sharks FC 1-3 Gor Mahia
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