With race all but decided, eyes on KPL relegation battle

Curtains are almost falling on the 2017 Kenyan Premier League (KPL) season and while the title race could well be already decided, a spectacular scramble to avoid the chop at the bottom is looming.

Muhoroni Youth, with two games in hand, are last on the 18-team KPL log with 24 points; just three below Mathare United, Thika United and Western Stima who tied on 27 points, with the three clubs ranked in that order from 15th on goal difference superiority.

Teams above them are not to too far away either, with the likes on Bandari FC (11th) and giants AFC Leopards (12th) merely six points away from being sucked into this relegation dogfight.

At the summit, Gor Mahia are just five points away from being declared the champions, and theirs is now only a title procession as they await their coronation.

But Coach Dylan Kerr won’t allow Gor to party just yet.

“We can’t claim to be champions until we have nailed it. We want to win the trophy and ensure we finish strongly, scooping as much points as possible.

“I’m telling my players to enjoy the game like they have been doing. We start the end of this journey with Mathare United on Saturday, knowing the opponent we are playing is fighting to survive in the league,” Kerr told Citizen Digital ahead of Saturday’s clash with Mathare.

Surprisingly, despite their struggles, Mathare is the only team beat Gor at home this season. Only two other sides – Western Stima and Sofapaka – have managed to take all three points from clashes with the record KPL champions.

The Slum Boys have a tougher task halting Gor’s momentum this time round but know full well how crucial a win for them could prove.

“It’s the big one this weekend. The lads are fired up for the Saturday clash against league leaders Gor Mahia. Interestingly, we are one of the three sides that have managed to beat K’Ogalo this season.

“Save for Wycliffe Kasaya and Roy Syamba, it’s a full house in training and the mood in camp is great ahead of the task. Cliff Nyakeya scored the lone goal in the reverse tie and Thika Stadium is set for an exciting match this weekend as we seek to replicate the first leg result,” read a statement on Mathare’s official portal.

The Francis Kimanzi coached side has endured a difficult season after losing a big chunk of first team players last season, forcing him to recruit several armatures to compose his current squad.

He has however poured cold water on claims that his side could be headed for relegation, and the K’Ogalo test should be basis of substantiating his word.

Critical stage

Robert Matano’s Leopards go back to Narok with a bad memory of the venue after a 2-0 defeat to Sofaka a fortnight ago.

They would survive a Kariobangi Sharks scare on Saturday in Machakos in the 0-0 draw, and Matano expects a turnaround against the mail men.

“Sofapaka’s defeat was a shame, and coming from it to draw against Sharks is fairly consoling.

“We are in a critical stage of the league and in a position that no one would expect Leopards to be in, therefore we must do our best in the remaining matches,” Matano told after the Sharks draw.

He welcomes back Assistant Captain Robinson Kamura and Dennis Shikhayi who missed the Machakos fixture due to national team commitments, with Vincent Oburu, Aziz Okaka and Marcellus Ingotsi who limped off in the match expected to return.

Rangers had two weeks to rest during the FIFA international break but had their goalkeeper Patrick Matasi, Simon Mbugua and Joakins Atudo in Harambee Stars Asia tour, but should be available for Leopards.

Head coach Sammy ‘Pamzo’ Omolo has been on a three-match suspension for his misconduct against Sofapaka’s Sam Ssimbwa.

He is however adamant his absence on the touchline has been inconsequential, noting he has been enjoying all the time with the team during training.

In the other matches lined up over the weekend, Bandari will be at home to Sofapaka at the Mbaraki Stadium on Saturday, while Kakamega Homeboyz will be at home to Nakumatt FC at the Mumias Sports Complex on Sunday.

Sony Sugar will be at the Awendo Green Stadium to face off with Nzoia Sugar as Tusker hosts Muhoroni Youth at the Ruaraka Stadium, with Western Stima and Thika United locking horns at the Moi Stadium, in Kisumu.