NAIROBI, Kenya- A draw against North African opposition would be welcome in Kenya but for 10-man Gor Mahia FC, their 0-0 stalemate with USM Alger (USMA) on Wednesday night felt like a loss.
Such was the dominance of the SportPesa Premier League (SPL) champions in their second Group B game of their 2018 CAF Confederations Cup campaign that it was USMA who went home feeling better from an absorbing contest at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani.
The heavy rains that drenched the venue dampened the atmosphere compared to Sunday when the stadium witnessed its biggest crowd in over two decades when Gor played English side Hull City FC in a friendly.
However, the sending off of defender Joash Onyango galvanised the handful of fans to cheer their team through what was a credible result bearing in mind that Group D rivals, Yanga SC and Rayon Sport shared another barren stalemate in the other match.
The draw left record SPL winners Gor second in the pool with two points behind leaders USMA (four) and tied with Rayon Sport with Yanga propping the standings with one.
The match began at mid tempo with captain Harun Shakava being called upon in the second minute to clear a cross floated into the danger area by USMA designated set piece specialist Mohamed Rabie Meftah.
George ‘Blackberry’ Odhiambo had K’Ogalo’s first chance but he fired agonizingly wide in the eighth after some impressive build-up play between him, Francis Kahata and Ugandan full-back Godfrey Walusimbi who terrorised USMA in his flank.
Odhiambo was in the thick of things again in the 14th when he put striker Ephrem Guikan through with a clever ball before the Ivorian was brought down but to the consternation of the crowd, the referee dismissed the penalty shouts.
Guikan was helped off the pitch for treatment three minutes later following a nasty challenge in an incident that saw teammates Kahata and Jacques Tuyisenge engage the USMA players in a heated argument but the referee took no action.
It was a relief for Gor English coach Dylan Kerr when Guikan jogged back onto the pitch since he was missing the services of crowd-favorite Meddie Kagere who was serving a one-match suspension after accumulating two yellow cards in the second-tier continental competition.
Gor picked up the pace and in the 23rd, Walusimbi sent a teasing that was expertly met with a glancing Guikan header but USMA keeper and captain, Mohammed Zemmamouche tipped the ball behind the post for the first of the telling saves he made to keep K’Ogalo at bay.
The resultant corner was punched away by Zemmamouche and the ball landed to Kahata after Shakava left it for the midfielder but his delivery lacked the quality to bother the Algerian defence that easily dealt with the threat.
In the 30th the home supporters held their heads in collective disbelief when Odhiambo failed to finish two of arguably their best chances from close range when he popped up unchallenged in the USMA box.
The first effort was brilliantly stopped by Zemmamouche but the winger raced to the rebound and a combination of the post and the USMA custodian contrived to deny him the opener on the goal-line.
Three minutes later, Onyango received his first yellow card that ruled him out of their next match against Yanga regardless of the outcome.
With their tails up, K’Ogalo soldiered on with Walusimbi having a blinder on the left with Guikan who is growing into his role since arriving at the beginning of the season the main beneficiary.
In the 36th, another pin-point pass from the Ugandan international found the Ivorian who had ghosted between two defenders but Guikan saw his first time finish sail just wide of the right post with Zemmamouche for once stranded.
Gor had by this time taken full control and were unlucky not to be in the lead and they almost paid for their profligacy when USMA pinged the ball at pace on the left with K’Ogalo’s rearguard back-pedaling.
Meftah spared the hosts a cruel opening goal when his overhit cross evaded three of his teammates who had the freedom of the Gor box and after two minutes of stoppage time, baffling owing to the number of stoppages in the half, the teams went in level at 0-0.
Gor resumed the game hoping to press on the advantage but it was USMA who created the better chances in the opening exchanges of the second stanza.
Finding joy in the right where Onyango had been cautioned Rafik Bouderbal fired a shot over from an acute angle in the 49th and a minute later, disaster struck for Kerr’s side.
With the ball seemingly drifting out of play, Meziane chased the lost cause before going down when he came into contact with Onyango.
The linesman immediately had his flag up and when the referee went for his pocket for a second yellow, the Gor left back bowed his head and started walking dejected off the pitch when the red came out.
Shortly after,USMA head coach Miloud Hamdi withdrew Benguit from his midfield for striker Oualid Ardji Ismail.
In the 66th, the crowd wailed when Tuyisenge raced to the box, feigned to shoot before he attempted to stroke the ball last Zemmamouche but somehow, the USMA keeper who was lying prostate on the ground lifted an arm to prevent the ball from going in.
It was another of the golden chances the home side regretted and it was fashioned when Gor broke on the counter at breakneck speed with Kahata finding the Rwandese international whose intended pass to Guikan was blocked allowing him the chance to tuck in the rebound.
The offside flag came to Gor’s rescue in the 73rd when striker Fauzi Yaya escaped the attention of Philemon Otieno and looked set to set up one of his advancing teammates in what would have been three on one situation.
Gor supporters were up in arms two minutes later when another huge penalty shout went unheeded after Tuyisenge fell over a defender with the referee waving play on.
USMA sprung on the counter buy Yaya could not get the ball out of his feet for a to fire home allowing Shakava to slide in and send the ball out for a fruitless corner.
Perhaps tired of delivering without notching the desired assist, Kahata took matters into his own hands in the 79th, working himself to space on the right before offloading a daisy-cutter that was turned behind for a corner by Zemmamouche, who was USMA’s man of the match by a mile.
Ilyes Yaiche then came on in the Algerians’ midfield for Meziane before Kerr, who had asked Guikan to drop to midfield after the sending off, replaced the Ivorian with midfielder Cercidy Okeyo with the striker having run himself to the ground with five left on the clock.
From there, both teams treaded cautiously, keen to hold on to what they had and Gor fans aided their team’s effort by mimicking the referee’s whistle whenever USMA burst forward.
At the end of the sometimes breathless contest, the stalemate was the least both teams deserved as they kept the Confed Cup hopes alive.