BY STEVE AYOO
Gor Mahia beat AFC Leopards 3-1 to win Mashemeji Derby with Nicholas Kipkirui scoring twice and Jacques Tuyisenge adding the third.
Vincent Oburu pulls one back for Leopards late on but Gor barely hang on to edge closer to league title
Gor have now won 7 of the last 8 derbies since Leopards last tasted victory (1-0 in March 2016)
For the fourth successive time, the Mashemeji Derby bragging rights – and points – were thrust inside the Gor Mahia burgeoning basket as a Roy of the Rovers performance delivered a thumping 3-1 win over on-field enemies but off-field in-laws AFC Leopards in the 91st derby contested at the Kasarani Stadium.
Expectations were high from the Leopards camp this time round as they paraded yet another army they believed could deliver a win that is increasingly become elusive.
Ahead of the match, the AFC Leopards top brass had felt it necessary to reward head coach Andre Cassa Mbungo with a new contract. It was a timely act, a show of faith aimed at motivating the boss, with hopes that there will be a ripple effect on the players.
There wasn’t much news from the Gor Mahia camp though but the Green Army required no further motivation – the fact that victory here would have all but confirmed them as champions for an 18th time was enough.
Both sides had suffered identical 1-0 defeats in their assignments before this one. Nobody seemed to care much. After all, the big one, this one, the derby is what the players and fans have been waiting for since February 9 2019, the last time the duo met with Gor Mahia winning 2-0.
Leopards have undergone a transition since that defeat. New boss, new office, a couple of new players, notably David ‘Cheche’ Ochieng and Paul ‘Sense’ Were. Two names that are all too familiar to football fans. Cheche stops havoc, Were creates them. Both are important ammunition in the game and Leopards had them both.
But Gor had better, and more besides. They have been having better for almost a decade now.
And so it proved.
Gor were at times unplayable as they toyed around with Leopards who kept trying and never stopped until the end.
But the gulf in class was evident from the off. And no player reflected this other than Leopards’ celebrated, free scoring attacking midfielder Wyvonne Isuza.
A player who has built his reputation as the chief creator, the brain behind Leopards’ attacking play was made to look too ordinary. Where he creates, he destroyed. Where he blossoms, he flopped. Instead of carrying his team on his shoulders as he often does, he was the burden that was dragging them to the ground.
Gor on the other hand showed few signs of weakness. They covered each other’s shortcomings. When Kenneth Muguna slipped to give the ball away, Ernest Wendo tracked back to make a tackle. When Geoffrey Ochieng’ was beaten for pace and skill by the pacy and skilful Were, captain Harun Shakava cleared the resultant mess.
This collective effort saw Gor Mahia totally boss the game from the get-go against a Leopards side who sometimes looked like they didn’t know what to do with the ball in the few occasions they had it.
All on Were
With creativity in their midfield lacking, Ingwe opted for long shots with Were, perhaps out of frustration, sending shots in from as far as 30 yards.
This was in complete contrast to Kogalo whose intricate interplay got them as close as possible to the Leopards goal.
Leopards started on a high as Cheche’s lofted ball over the Gor defence was pounced on by Isuza who raced towards Gor keeper Fredrick Odhiambo, only for Shakava to make a timely tackle before the winger could pull the trigger.
On the other end, Kipkirui dispossessed Christopher Oruchum down the left channel before curling towards Ezekiel Owade’s far post but the ball was always rising.
The Gor Mahia No. 7 was gifted another chance from a sloppy pass but, although closer, he shot slightly wide with Owade scrambling.
The first effort on target was driven in by the home side after 21 minutes, Were drawing an awkward save from Odhiambo with a sensational free-kick.
From the resulting attack, Gor won a free-kick which Kahata floated in was half cleared into the path of Samuel Onyango. The wingers’s shot should have been dealt with by Owade but the keeper somehow spilled the ball into the waiting feet of Kipkirui and the former Zoo FC man made no mistake inside 6 yards, booting the ball home.
Jacques Tuyisenge was winning his battles with Salim Abdallah and the Rwandese captain carved two opportunities for himself at the expense of the bully defender but failed to convert.
Brian Marita, kept quite for much of the game, almost pulled Leopards level when he gambled on a through ball from Were but he ran out of space to execute after Odhiambo hesitated.
With his attacking partners having an off day, Were was trying to do it all on his own. His shot from 25 yards went straight at Odhiambo, with Marita also going long but the keeper looked comfortable making the saves.
A goal that never was
Leopards finished the half strong and had the ball in the back of the net but the referee Israel Mpaima had blown for half time. The confusion had some Leopards fans celebrating, but not for long as reality sunk in.
From the interval, Marita forced Odhiambo into an awkward near post save with a 57th minute freekick. Three minutes later, Gor went 2-0 up as Muguna dispossessed Said Tsuma in midfield before unleashing a surgically measured through ball to Kipkirui who easily beat Owade for his and Gor’s second.
Kipkirui created the third as he motored down the left, kept the ball in play by inches and with no white and blue kit in sight, he had all the time in the world to think about what to do.
After a short meeting with self, Kipkirui decided on dinking the ball over Owade. The keeper got a touch but not enough to stop the ball from getting to an unmarked Tuyisenge who was begging for a pass at the far post. He couldn’t have asked for a better turn of events as he simply had to place his head in a position of contact with the ball.
A section of Leopards fans were irked by the goal as they believed Kipkirui had not succeeded in keeping ep the ball in play. They made their feelings known albeit not in a civilized manner as they plucked and hurled seats as well as empty water bottles into the pitch, causing a temporary stop in play.
Samuel Onyango was a constant mare for the Leopards defence and he should have made it 4-0 three minutes to the end but his sliding far post effort from a Tuyisenge cross missed Owade’s goal by inches.
Leopards would pull one back as a moment of complacency saw Oburu disposes Joash Onyango before the left-footed striker easily beat Odhiambo to reduce the arrears to 3-1.
Kipkirui almost completed his hattrick but his lobbed effort got a slight touch from Owade, the ball missing the far post by inches.
Oruchum almost pulled a further goal back for Ingwe when he planted a header home but Odhiambo palmed it away in what was the last action of the match.
Had Bandari failed to beat Zoo Kericho, Gor would have been crowned champions with this win, a repeat of the past season when a 2-0 victory over Leopards handed Kogalo a 17th league title with 6 games to spare.
Title celebrations were merely postponed then as victory over relegation-threatened Vihiga United this Wednesday will win Hassan Oktay and his men the league title for a third successive time.
A day later, AFC Leopards will be away to relegated Mount Kenya United.