Were strikes winner as Stars outshine Liberia’s Lone Star
Paul Were decided the battle between Harambee Stars and the Lone Star from Liberia when he sunk a second half winner to extend Kenya’s unbeaten run to eight at Safaricom Stadium, Kasarani on Tuesday.
The winger who plays for second-division side Archanaikos of Greece found the target in the 53rd minute when he converted Eric Johanna’s defence-splitting pass having been restored to the side after missing Saturday’s game against the Mambas of Mozambique.
However, the goal was mired in controversy with Liberia protesting strongly it was scored from an offside position.
Stars first coach, Stanley Okumbi praised his squad for eking out victory after wasting a hat-load of chances to put the Lone Star to the sword with a more convincing victory.
“It’s a great day for the players, they have done their best in the last two matches and its good for them. Sometimes you might start slowly but during half time we told them they must work hard, be hungry enough and we improved in the second half.
“I have been telling my players we must score as many goals as possible since we are creating many chances and not scoring them. We shall do scoring exercises when we gather next time,” Okumbi told reporters post-match.
His opposite number James Debbah was besides himself with rage claiming his side were robbed of victory as he chided the Kenyans for failing to beat his young side convincingly.
“We have a problem with the officiating of the game. The referees were biased, the goal, you saw the replay, was offside. You cannot build the team like that, if Kenya wanna progress, you got to be fair because this is a test for your team.
“You play against our third team, not the first, or the second but the third! This are young boys we brought to try them and you can’t even win! The officiating was bad men, I’m not impressed!”
It was a convincing display from the hosts despite Okumbi tinkering with the side that shut Mozambique out in another 1-0 victory on Saturday where Johanna emerged the hero by producing the winner.
In truth, the Liberia never really tested Stars keeper Boniface Oluoch despite their coach John Debbah saying on Sunday he was coming to burst Kenya’s bubble.
Aboud Omar was the only change in the back four, taking the place of youngster Eric Ouma and fitting in seamlessly into the side in a game where captain and inspiration, Victor Wanyama was withdrawn at half time.
By resting Wanyama, Okumbi endeared himself to English Premier League (EPL) title-chasing side Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino as he prepares for Saturday’s London derby at home to West Ham with Wanyama establishing himself as a key midfield anchor for his side.
That was however, a sideshow to the contest where Stars were seeking to sustain their momentum and a further opportunity for Okumbi who took over under a haze of controversy in March, to underline his credentials as the man to lead the team to the promised land of 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification.
Another winger, Ayub Timbe was the first to fire a shot towards goal in anger after leaving his marker for dead on the right wing with a dazzling piece of skill but Liberia goalkeeper Tommy Songos was equal to his effort.
Moments later, Aboud Omar and Were combined to split the rearguard in the 14th as mayhem descended on the Lone Star box but both fluffed the effort with a gaping goal to aim at.
Sensing their opponents were there for the taking, Stars started rampaging towards the Liberian goal and the visitors were lucky not to go a goal down in the 25th when Songos produced a save from the top draw to deny Michael Olunga from close range.
This is after an initial shot from the lively Were cannoned off the woodwork before officials turned down protest from Stars players that the initial shot had crossed the line from the underside of the crossbar.
A string of misplaced passes and sloppy play in the Stars midfield allowed Liberia to finally find their feet, creating their first chance that however, lacked a clinical finishing touch.
Johanna spurned another guilt-edged opportunity to fashion the lead for his side in 41st when he shot straight at the keeper in a one-on-one to leave the sparse crowd of home supporters exasperated.
The Kenyan Premier League side Mathare United midfielder was once again on the thick of the action moments later, producing an intricate back heeled pass to the path of the onrushing Olunga who fired wide.
With the visitors lacking any incisiveness in their play and struggling to string passes together, only the heroics of Songos kept them level and the keeper once again denied the hosts when he punched out a stinging long range drive from right back Jockins Atudo in added time of the opening stanza.
Zambia giants Zesco United midfielder Anthony ‘Teddy’ Akumu came in place of Wanyama at the start of the second and he wasted little-time into slotting into the skipper’s hole, dictating play as Stars intensified their search for an opener.
The deadlock was finally broken when Were snapped a poorly set up offside trap with a brilliant run across goal to slot in Johanna’s pass with Songos this time having no answer.
Reclaiming his place from Omar in the second half, Ouma wasted no time announcing his presence, outpacing Karleo Anderson before whipping in a cross for Olunga but the Swedish top-flight side IF Djugardens forward was out-muscled out of the ball-barely.
In the 70th, Johanna dribbled past two defenders before cutting the ball to the danger area and unleashing a cracker that ended in the side-netting.
Ouma then horribly mistimed his header from a beautifully lofted cross from Were as Stars profligacy continued.
And they were almost caught out cold when a snapshot from Liberian striker Mark Page found Stars custodian Oluoch flat footed as the ball cut across goal dangerously before it ended out of play for a goal kick.
With the clock ticking Timbe, Were and Olunga were rested and the momentum fizzed out of the hosts as replacement forward and Zesco striker Jesse Were failed to spark but Stars had done enough to collect another morale boosting victory.
While it is too early to say the team has turned the corner to challenge the might of continental giants, everyone has at least sat up and taken notice of the resurgence of a nation often hailed as a sleeping giant.
Kenyans will be saying more of this please.
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