It is impossible to consider this fixture without acknowledging the context of recent twists at the top of the log. After exchanging the top spot in the earlier proceedings, the teams are now separated by a mere four points as the league becomes more challenging as days unfold.
Both teams see this as an opportunity to inflict psychological damage, with Gor Mahia seeking to extend their dominance over the Leopard in recent years and AFC hoping to put their recent anaemic display behind them more so with Stewart Hall now in charge, with their form something to bank on.
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Picking a winner
Picking an outright winner in this tie might be a tall order considering both teams are coming to this encounter after failing to record wins in their previous ties. Having to say this game might determine who will be having a huge say on where the 2017 Kenyan Premier League (KPL) title will land won't be far fetched.
At this stage of the season it seems Gor Mahia is setting the pace, which they have done in the previous season only for rivals to wake up late when they had made massive strides and AFC Leopards will be keen to thwart this when they have a chance. Even Ulinzi Stars who begun the season in some fashion are struggling to stay in touch, the team spoiling the equation for both green and blue faction is Posta Rangers who remain the only unbeaten side in the league.
It could be argued that both Sammy Omollo, Benjamin Nyangweso and co are still in the title mix but they will too depend on the outcome of the Derby to plan on a way to widen the gap (in the case of Pamzo) or close the margin (in the case of Nyangweso and the chasing lot) if they are to keep the duo at bay.
Leopards would leapfrog their arch rivals with a win, though that is probably the result Sofapaka and Chemelil will be hoping for as it would make them keep pace with the top teams. A win would be a sensational result for Gor Mahia who are just two points off leaders Posta Rangers and will be a welcome result for Ze Maria who can scarcely afford to follow last Saturday's disappointing loss to Mathare United.
Under Pressure Ze Maria
While Ze Maria needs a chunk of games to prove he can wrestle the title from Tusker, he would be under pressure as never before should he fail to win this tie. A draw would suit both clubs, even if it would be regarded with suspicion on Rangers. Such a result would still leave room for improvement but one that will give Rangers a breathing space should they win their week nine tie against third place Sofapaka.
Stewart Hall has had a quiet approach since his appointment at the den deciding to rubbish off the title talk and this seems to have relieved some pressure off his shoulders. He is seen as the tortoise in the title race but never be fooled, he wants accolades to add to his CV just as his opponents.
He will be out to give his best against Ze Maria and all his team will probably do the entire season is to keep the chasing pack at bay as the season progresses and pounce on any slight opportunity. Gor Mahia are no longer scoring goals for fun and their defensive problems are starting to find them out quite regularly.
In Gilbert Fiamenyo, Leopards has a serious striker who could cause havoc to the opposition defence and Gor Mahia must devise a way to keep him silent. With Leopards having problems of their own in terms of conceding goals, the battle here seems to lie in the midfield.
How will the combination of Bernard Mangoli, Duncan Otieno and Whyvonne Isuza cope with the fluency of Ernest Wendo, Francis Kahata and Kenneth Muguna, whoever wins that battle will probably win the game.
Not in the sense of one game after another but, if there is a single game that must be negotiated, a result to be obtained, Hall’s track record of coming up with a plan is excellent, he has done it before against Gor Mahia with Azam, and would dearly love to make life even more miserable for Ze Maria.
AFC Leopards and their supporters would probably enjoy that even more and this tie could be the one to remember.