Tusker reel in leaders Gor as KPL goes to break
After losing their opening two matches of the 2017 Kenyan Premier League (KPL) season, holders Tusker FC had been earmarked to produce an embarrassing title defense performance.
The 11-time champions suffered two heavy defeats to newcomers Nzoia Sugar (5-2) and followed with a 3-0 drubbing by to Thika United and have already tasted bottom rock of the KPL standings this term.
Having parted ways with Head Coach Paul Nkata who led them to the ‘double double’ last season and rocked with the resignation of Chairman Richard Musyoki, it appeared things would go haywire.
Nkata’s replacement George ‘Best’ Nsimbe was enduring a nightmare start to life at the club, having seen the side eliminated from the CAF Champions League by at the first hurdle as well as losing the KPL Super Cup to rivals Gor Mahia FC.
Tusker have since picked themselves up spectacularly, winning seven successive matches in a run that has thrust them joint top of the KPL table with Gor. In those games, they have conceded only twice.
“Our start did not show any element of a champion but our response soon after is undoubtedly that of a determined champion.
“We have a long way to go in the second leg so no conclusions can be made yet but our intention is clear.
“If we can sustain the run we had from the third round of matches to the end we will be good,” Nsimbe charged.
A quick form book comparison suggests Tusker are odds on to retain the title if they sustain the momentum, a fact that will certainly send warning shots to the K’Ogalo camp heading to the break.
Gor’s Jose Marcelo ‘Ze Maria’ Ferreira remembers vividly how his men were denied a fourth straight title by Tusker last season, and with his charges slowing down in their title charge, the worry lines are far from softening.
The record champions narrowly escaped defeat in the hands of Thika during round 12 with Ugandan international Godfrey Walusimbi finding the equalizer late into the second half.
Round 13 was a similar affair as they managed to nick a point against Posta Rangers after trailing them 1-0 for the better part of the match.
Asked about his chances in the title race, Ze Maria noted his charges were going for it and nothing less, the pressure within notwithstanding.
“We want to win the league. That is what our fans expect of us. We have to fight to the end because the competition is really tough,” he offered.
After Sunday’s match against Posta Rangers, he summed it up as a difficult outing.
“It has been a very difficult match for us, and now the pressure is obviously building because we haven’t won in two games. Thankfully, we have a two week break to strategize on how to come back strongly.
“The break will also be beneficial to the players who weren’t able to be play today (like Harun Shakava and George Blackberry Odhiambo) due to injuries,” Ze Maria
-Leopards free fall-
At the den, the script has rapidly gone from whether they have a shot at the KPL title for the first time since 1998 to the prospect of surviving a second relegation scare in two seasons.
Responding to critics in his final match in charge of the Leopards, departing Coach Stewart Hall insisted the club will come back stronger after the June break.
“I’m confident I the team will do well. We lacked quality strikers and that has already been sorted.
“I worked with the technical bench and we settled on Kitenge (Alexis) and Kezron Kizito who will certainly provide goals alongside Fiamenyo (Gilbert),” Hall underscored.
Ingwe’s winless streak in eight matches resulted in their free fall from the summit to the current 12th, with many made to believe that run prompted Hall’s resignation.
The Englishman who previously managed Tanzanian giants Azam FC however emphasized family affairs and a better offer in Canada led to his exit.
Mathare United lies 18th on the KPL log with only nine points after 13 rounds, making their early season ambition of finishing among the top 8 an almost improbable task.
It goes without saying that the loss of Harambee Stars regulars Eric Johanna (Sweden), Robinson Kamura and Whyvonne Isuza to AFC Leopards is haunting the Slum Boys.
Head coach Francis Kimanzi opted to conduct open recruitment sessions to replace the three stars among others, but his strategy appears to have backfired.
He has two weeks to plan afresh and to at least save his job amid hints from club CEO Jactone Obure that the axe might soon be unleashed.
“We are bottom in the league and everyone knows that’s not where we belong. It’s becoming a huge concern for us. The results have been bad, not that we are playing badly but I think we have been unlucky in some matches.
“We are meeting the technical bench this week so that we hear from them on the way forward. They understand the technical aspects better than us so we will listen to them and offer the necessary support,” Obure offered.
After securing sponsorship early in the season, the 2009 champions Sofapaka FC have risen above last season’s woes that saw them escape relegation in the 11th hour.
Currently sixth on the log midway season, Sam SSimbwa’s charges can focus on top five finish if they keep their current tempo.
“I would like to promise that we are not going to be just participant like last season, we are going to be competitors for the trophy.
“If the title comes we will have worked hard for it, and if it doesn’t come I assure you that I will have formed a strong side to fight till the last minute,” said the Ugandan coach Sam Ssimbwa earlier in the season.
He is well on course, although his team has been wavering in the last stages of the first leg.
“We have been inconsistent in the last four games due to the absences of key payers. Moses Odhiambo, Charles Okwemba and goalkeeper Mathias Kigonya have not been playing regularly for the entire month due to injuries forcing me to adversely adjust the squad.
“We also have to be having issues with defending set pieces and must really work on this area if we are to have any ambitions of fighting for the title,” he asserted.
Kariobangi Sharks (5), Nakumatt FC (7), Nzoia Sugar (10) and Zoo Kericho (14) have found their footing in the topflight and are already causing major upsets.
Albeit promotion on non-sporting merit, Nakumatt FC and Zoo Kericho are off the relegation zone while Kariobangi Sharks is rivaling seasoned KPL clubs for a top five finish.
Careful not to be overambitious, William Muluya said Sharks was in the league for the first time to cement her place and would compete for the best finish possible before setting sights on the title.
Match after match, the Sharks have proven their credentials as one of the top KPL sides and will surely finish in a decent position should they maintain the form they have showcased over the past 13 rounds.
Bernard Mwalala who won the National Super League (NSL) with Nzoia foresees a better run in the remaining part of the season, observing they have let the foot of the gas pedal in the latter stages of the first leg.
“We had several matches we lost maximum points that we should have not. It is bad that fair play has not been achieved sometimes when badly need it.
“We also lost some of our players to injuries along the way but we hope to come back stronger,” remarked the former Harambee Stars ace.
The margins are close at the top thus far, with only 10 points separate the first and the team that is placed 10th on the 18-team KPL.
More fixture-congestion is expected in the second leg since the required half total fixtures (17) was not met going to the break.
KPL FULL TABLE
|10||Nzoia Sugar FC||13||4||5||4||18||14||4||17|
|15||Muhoroni Youth FC||13||2||5||6||7||15||-8||11|
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