BY STEVE AYOO
Gor Mahia played host to Vihiga United at the Kenyatta Stadium, Machakos on Wednesday (22) evening, knowing that victory would confirm them the 2018-19 Kenyan Premier League champions.
It however turned out that they didn’t need the three points after all as second-placed Bandari FC, who had to beat Mathare United in an earlier kickoff, could only muster a barren result, confirming Gor as champions before the record winners could kick a ball.
Bandari’s result must have played a huge role in Gor’s 1-1 draw against Vihiga United as Charles Momanyi’s early strike in the first half was canceled by Amos Kigadi’s second half goal.
Gor barely had to engage the second gear against a Vihiga side who are hanging on to the topflight rope by the skin of their collective teeth.
The inevitable hence happened as Gor earned a third successive league title with two games to spare.
Although their crowning was only a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ the moment they beat then title challengers Sofapaka on matchday 29, it was last weekend’s Mashemeji Derby victory over rivals AFC Leopards that added the cherry on the cake.
In fact, had Gor not lost at Nzoia United in the game preceding the derby, they could have won the title by beating Leopards in a repeat scenario of last season.
This league triumph never looked possible during the early days of this season as Gor suffered a confidence crisis especially after the appointment of Hassan Oktay as the head coach.
The Cypriot coach was drafted in to try fit in the shoes of the much-loved yet affable British coach Dylan Kerr who had led Kogalo to back-to-back league titles and also a strong push in continental club competitions.
Gor labored during the early days with a lot of fans questioning the coach’s game plan and tactics.
Things fall into place
However, things began falling into place – better yet, Oktay started knitting them together – as Gor pushed hard in the Caf Champions League and also found a winning formula in the domestic front.
They came to within a point of reaching the lucrative group stages in the Champions League and should have at least graced the semifinals of the Confederations Cup but the perennial leadership, or lack of it, struck hard as they were embarrassed by Morrocan Cup winners RS Berkane.
Berkane are playing in the final of the Europa League equivalent against Zamalek, a side that Gor beat 4-2 at home in the group stages.
With domestic front looking ever so comfortable for them, it’s continental power that Gor are pursuing and the club’s fans are increasingly seeing progress in the continental scene as the yardstick for success.
The first step towards that remains winning your local league title, or in the case of Confederation Cup, winning the FKF Shield which earns you a slot in the preliminary stages.
However, the fact that Gor have failed to get past the last 8 in the Shield for the last 4 years perhaps shows how much they (don’t) rate that route to continental football.
They would rather win the league, enter the Champions League preliminary rounds and, in case they fail, they get the Confederation Cup as a rebound.
It’s a system that is working for them.
Congratulations Gor Mahia on your third successive league title, and a record-extending 18th time.
Your 2019-20 journey to conquering Africa begins 9–11 August 2019.
All the best.
Well, Gor Mahia’s latest conquest was even bigger for captain Harun Shakava as he joined an exclusive club of only three other Gor players to have lifted the title five times.
The trio includes Tobias ‘Juakali’ Ocholla (1987, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1995), Austin Oduor (1983-85, 1987, 1990) and Bobby Ogola (1979, 1983-85, 1987).
Shakava’s titles: 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2018-19