Two clubs, two news managers, two long and eventful campaigns, all boiled down to one game. Dylan Kerr keeps urging his charges to give their all when in the Gor Mahia jersey with Robert Matano, not on one occasion, speaking about the positive progress of the boys in blue since taking over. On Sunday, it will be that time of the season where the marker pen ticks and crosses the boxes of who has had the biggest impact since taking over.
For the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) to be as competitive as other leagues in the continent, then AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia will have to be on the same level season in, season out. For a game that was once a great advert of Kenyan soccer, the Mashemeji Derby has lost its taste and aura in recent years and there's really little indication it will be any different this year.
Standards are being set in other games with Ulinzi Stars and Gor Mahia slowly becoming one of the most contested duel in the league. Blood, sweat and tears should be a thing that comes with derby games; fight in search of that elusive winner as witnessed in the first leg in this tie when Stephen Waruru rubbed Gor Mahia fans the wrong way.
As things are turning out, this early, the 2017 KPL title is Gor Mahia’s to lose and they head into the derby as clear favorites. While it is not hard to predict that Leopards will give a fight now that Robert Matano is at the helm of the team, being dumped out of the top flight football was not a far fetched dream just weeks ago.
At the start of the season, under Stewart Hall, the Leopards set the pace, which they did for a short while. Gor were struggling to stamp their authority. Posta Rangers and Bandari FC then were making strides in mixing with the ‘big boys’ of the league but the latter have faded with Rangers struggling to keep Gor within touching distance.
It could be argued Rangers are still in the title race but picking just a point in their last three games has left the Sammy Omollo coached side out as fading challengers. Rangers are third mainly because teams around them have not been winning frequently and with Tusker drifting down at an alarming rate, Gor are seen as outright winners this season.
The positives that can be picked from both teams is the resurgence of some individual players. Everyone will want to see how Kenneth Muguna performs after rubbing his club the wrong side with claims that the midfielder handed in a transfer request; his performance against Rangers in midweek suggesting that he has not been distracted by the claims. On the Leopards side, defender Mike Kibwage has done well since coming on for the injured Marcus Abwao and many would want to see how he contains the Gor Mahia attack where he is set to come up against the resurgent George Blackberry Odhiambo.
Gor Mahia's Title Challenge
A win would be a sensational result for the Leopards, without necessarily spelling the end of Gor Mahia’s title challenge, yet Kerr in particular can scarcely afford going down to a Leopard side considered one of the weakest in this millennium. The ignominy would be unbearable for the club's fans who have publicly set their sights much higher in the game. While Kerr deserves more time to prove himself, he would be under pressure should he go down on Sunday.
A draw would suit both clubs. Such a result would still leave Gor’s destiny in their own hands and it would preserve the remarkable unbeaten sequence that Kerr has quietly managed to supervise. Leopards have been the tortoise in the race all season, though there are now signs that at least a couple of the chasing teams are tiring and all Matano’s team need to do is keep inching along.
Leopards are coming into the game on the back of a slim win over Tusker; Gor Mahia have some momentum. Who should be the most confident now? Anything can happen in derbies, as both sides know only too well, but Gor have a manager who seems to be able to work out a plan to win any given game.