It’s the most popular fixture of the Kenyan Premier League: Gor Mahia vs AFC Leopards. It’s also one of the biggest derbies in Africa with passionate fans ready for anything - even war - to defend their team colours.
And on that bright Sunday afternoon, it was no different. There were thousands of fans following proceedings live at the Safaricom Kasarani Stadium, and millions more watching on telly across the country.
In the end, the ‘Blue and White’ half of the stadium returned home a happy lot while the ‘Green Army’ - battered and bruised - left with the tail between their legs.
K’Ogalo came to the match buoyed by their experienced and revered players, award winning coach and the “unbeaten” tag on their heads, but after 90 minutes, it was all zero. Nought. Nothing.
The Big Cats proved that it’s not the “stars” that win big games; they proved that it’s not the intimidating ‘Green Army’ that guarantees success; it’s team work, cohesion and, more importantly, ruthlessness in front of goal.
After an absorbing encounter, with end-to-end action that kept both goalkeepers busy and fans on the edge, the magical moment came in the 83rd minute. As is often the case with such glamour fixtures, one moment of brilliance makes the difference.
Class. After many breathtaking saves, Gor Mahia goalkeeper Jerim Onyango could do nothing to stop Lamine Diallo’s beauty with seven minutes to go. That lovely shot settled the drama. It brought joy to the Blue shirts. In the Green stands, there were tears, tears, tears of sorrow... Deep mourning.
For new Leopards coach Ivan Minnaert, it was a dream derby. His tactics worked well. Like a hunting leopard, they sat back and absorbed the first half pressure from the champions, then attacked strongly in the last quarter.
JOY TO WATCH
The introduction of red-hot striker Allan Katerrega for Alfred Wekesa in the 28th minute proved a good idea for the Belgian tactician as he turned the game on its head. Ooh boy, he was a joy to watch. With the help of fellow second half substitutes Yusuf Juma and Diallo upfront, Katerrega served to stretch the K’Ogalo backline to breaking point. This defeat shattered K’Ogalo’s unbeaten league run that had stood for 17 months.
Ingwe are now top of the Premier League table as winless K’Ogalo languish in 12th position, just three steps off the dreadful relegation zone.
“We are warriors! We are Leopards and our instinct is to kill. We are going to fight every weekend to kill our opponents,” Minnaert told Daily Nation Sport.
Gor tactician Frank Nuttall, who was feted as Coach of the Year at the end of the 2015 season, is yet to guide K’Ogalo to a derby victory since he arrived at the club in July, 2014.
Nuttall will have to urgently address his team’s wastefulness in front of goal if they are to recover from their current performance rut and challenge for a 16th league title. Nuttall handed George “Blackberry” Odhiambo the lead attacker’s role as Francis Kahata, Innocent Wafula and Godfrey Walusimbi supported him. They dominated proceedings, especially in the first half, but the fruitless runs and poor finishing of the forwards saw them pass out a number of glorious chances.
The decision to start with new signing Luke Ochieng' on the right wing at the expense of award-winning defender Karim Nizigiyimana was also questionable as the squad appeared thin and exposed.
“You have to bear in mind the fact that we do not have the kind of strikers we had last year. The boys have seen what happened and I know that they will be aiming to get a good response to this. I am under no pressure at all,” Nuttall said.