The Kenyan title race gets interesting
The title chase in the Tusker Premier League just got interesting. Not that it wasn’t already but a few months ago it looked like AFC Leopards would run away with the title this year, long before the final day of the league.
With the Leopards’ form dropping with each passing game, they finally lost their top spot to Tusker this week – albeit on goal difference – but then again goal difference can determine whether you win a league or not – just ask Manchester United and Manchester City.
It’s the worst time possible for Leopards to be dropping points, given that the big derby against one of their biggest challengers for the title, Gor Mahia, is on this weekend.
It’s been more than a decade since this derby meant so much to the football fraternity in Kenya. It’s been 14 years exactly since either of these teams won the league and now both have a realistic chance of taking it. Over the past 14 years, seeing both clubs in such promising positions to win the league has just not been something we have experienced.
So with so much at stake, what exactly will happen on Saturday?
Gor Mahia is in fine form. Thirteen games unbeaten, a coach who clearly knows how to read the toughest of games, players who are so motivated by the thought of winning their first title in 17 years, and fans who have been with the club every step of the way this season. That is Gor Mahia in a sentence. On paper, everything is in favour of K’ogalo and the only thing that can hold them back, is if they cannot withstand the pressure.
Up until now, Gor Mahia has gone through their entire unbeaten run with little pressure but their fans are beginning to get used to winning; or at the very least drawing. So the pressure is on. In fact the pressure is on every time Gor play AFC Leopards; but with the title in sight, things are even worse.
It’s been more or less the complete opposite for AFC leopards. They started the season on a high, going 23 games (since last August) unbeaten. The unbeaten run was ended by Tusker but more or less coincided with boardroom issues. I dwelt on some of them in last week’s blog so I won’t go into it again; but whatever has been happening at AFC Leopards should be a big lesson to teams gunning for the title.
There is just no way you can expect to get results with a technical bench that isn’t working in harmony with each other. I don’t have all the facts of what’s been happening this week at Ingwe’s offices, but it is a fact that the management summoned the entire technical bench, except Coach Jan Koops, to a crisis meeting this week; with the technical bench in trouble.
Koops has been left to continue preparing the team for the big derby this weekend and I hope the players can focus on the job at hand instead of the drama off the pitch.
This is the most exciting fixture in the league calendar – the second derby of the league season. During the first derby, whoever loses still has time to recover, but with six matches for each team to play, this is crunch time.
Interestingly, as soon as AFC lost that game to Western Stima last Saturday, many Gor fans began singing how the title was theirs. However, they seemed to have forgotten about a tiny little matter known as Tusker FC.
Right now Tusker looks most likely to retain their title, pipping both Gor and AFC. Tusker are top of the league right now and play lowly Karuturi Sports this weekend. The only major fixture for Tusker between now and the end of season would be the match at the end of October against Gor Mahia. Although they also play Thika United along the way and with Thika in fourth that should be a big task; but I don’t see Thika as much competition. The Brookside club have repeatedly failed to keep the pressure until the dying stages of the league.
I think Sofapaka and Ulinzi Stars are too far behind to catch up; so this title truly is between Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards and Tusker FC.
The derby this weekend will have such a huge bearing on the final outcome on November 10.
I am so looking forward to this title run-in as the race for glory just got even more interesting.