NAIROBI, Kenya- Mathare United FC still lead the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) with their grip at the top hanging by a thread following a weekend where some teams played their 10th and others 11th round of matches.
The 2008 champions missed a chance to extend their lead when they slumped to their second defeat of the season to Posta Ranger FC, to leave the slum boys stuck on 23 points, one ahead of champions Gor Mahia FC who have three games in hand.
Troubled, Nakumatt continue to prop the standings on seven but their season could still be salvaged with the retailers falling under new management.
Vihiga United FC, Thika United FC, Sony Sugar FC-who parted ways with head coach Salim Babu- and Zoo Kericho FC are the other sides hovering above the basement.
Here is a round up of SportPesa News winners and losers.
Without even kicking a ball, head coach Dylan Kerr and his record champions were the biggest winners over the weekend when the teams around them faltered yet again.
First, the side above them on the log, Mathare succumbed to a 1-2 defeat to Rangers on Sunday a day after the third placed team and arch rivals, AFC Leopards SC were denied victory at the death by struggling Zoo in Machakos in a pulsating 2-2 draw.
It left the table reading Mathare 23, Gor 22 and Leopards 18 in the top three with the titleholders having three and two games in hand in that order against their closest challengers.
It is a sad indictment of the quality of the KPL if Gor are only a point off the top having played three games less than the leaders who will frankly, be now takes as just a team warming the seat for the ‘owners’ of the league.
Ominously for the rest of the teams in the domestic top flight, Gor have only lost once this season, in controversial circumstances to African giants, Esperance de Tunis in Tunisia. No one should expect any let up to their pursuit of their crown when they resume KPL duty.
Sammy ‘Pamzo’ Omollo
The battle between Rangers and Mathare was a contest between KPL title winning coaches, Omollo and Francis Kimanzi, the latter hailed as one of if not the most astute tactacian in the local game.
Rangers raced to a 2-0 lead through Kennedy Otieno and Jockins Atudo in the opening exchanges with reborn Clifford Alwanga pulling one back in the 23rd.
Mathare had all the time, going by their recent form to turn around the match but Omollo and his experienced team survived everything thrown at them as Kimanzi’s charges came out firing in the second half for victory that saw them extend their tally to 17 and move into the top four.
Having also mounted a title challenge that dissipated in the second half of the campaign last year, Omollo has turned the previously unfashionable Rangers outfit into a genuine dark horse and showed why he won the title with Tusker FC in 2011.
The sugar millers thumped new boys Wazito FC 3-1 despite losing their coach Patrick Odhiambo who decamped to rivals Sony Sugar FC in a win that sees them in the lofty sixth (16).
Collins Neto grabbed a brace for Chemelil the 8th and 83rd minutes with their top KPL scorer, Philip Muchuma scoring the third and his fifth of the campaign to reduce Joe Waithera’s effort in the 66th for Wazito to a consolation.
Odhiambo who had made a name for himself will have egg on his face should the team he jumped ship to take the Sony job continue their impressive run based on early form.
Zoo Kericho/Nakumatt FC
Okay, they did not win their matches in the Kenyatta Stadium, Machakos double header on Saturday but the teams who have been thrown into a relegation dogfight so early on left with platforms to kick-start their seasons.
Zoo denied Leopards SC and their interim coach, Dennis Kitambi, who is reportedly on his way out of the Den maximum points and inflicted Ingwe the kind of last-minute pain they have been dishing on others when captain Johnstone Ligale headed in the equaliser in the 88th.
Nakumatt started their new era under the management of Nairobi politician Francis Mureithi by holding the dangerous Kariobangi Sharks FC to a barren stalemate.
Although bottom, the retailers need just a win and the teams surrounding them to slip up to be in the relative safety in a congested bottom of the log.
There were five draws in eight KPL games played over the weekend. A team needs to sign this player ‘draw’ but on a serious note, the league marketing staff will not be rushing to include this fact in any pitch to a potential partner.
The pragmatic approach by many coaches in the domestic top flight coupled with poor playing surfaces contribute to the lack of free-flowing, attacking football that could attract fans back to the terraces.
However, with KPL embarking on beaming the competition live to many audiences, many viewers will switch off to the likes of English Premier League or LaLiga if the only value they get for their time is to watch five draws in eight games.
“If you are trailing after 15 minutes you have a long way to go. We let it go from that point. When that happens you have to change a lot and that changes the entire plan,” head coach Francis Kimanzi told Mathare’s website after their second defeat this term.
Kimanzi is renowned for organisational discipline and having rebooted the team with an exciting blend of young and experienced players, perhaps its time the 2008 title winning coach used the proverbial hair dryer on his charges.
They simply cannot afford any more slip ups if they are to keep their interest in winning a trophy in every year that ends with an ‘eight’ alive.
Ingwe did not lose but once again, the musical chairs that is their head coach role came to play with Tanzanian Kitambi said to be on the verge of quitting to rejoin his former boss, Stewart Hall.
It is not lost on observers that since speculation about his future started, Leopards who had won four in a row remain winless in three, with two draws and that defeat to Tusker.
Stability in the technical bench is critical in ensuring a successive run as their archrivals Gor have demonstrated and even if they hire a great new coach, it will take time for his philosophy to bed in and by then, their rivals will be most probably be out of sight.
It makes the decision to sack Robert ‘The Lion’ Matano too soon after the start of the season seem another clanger by the club’s management.
However, there is still a long way to go for the team that has waited 20 years to win the domestic league title.
Sony Sugar FC/Sofapaka FC
The two shared a 1-1 draw after changing management, with Salim Babu leaving the former and Sam Ssimbwa exiting from Batoto ba Mungu.
Babu accused his players of ‘sabotage’ a word that has its own life form in the KPL any time a coach is hounded out of the team while Ssimbwa could fall on the same after his heavy close season investment failed to spark the 2009 champion to life.
Sony remain in trouble and Sofapaka are stuck in fifth (17) and missed an opportunity to get closer to the top and for a team that habours title ambitions, their stuttering run will not make any of their competitors for the crown quake under their boots.