DEFENDING champions Tusker failed to go past a ten-man Sofapaka in a top of the Tusker Premier League clash on Wednesday night at the Nyayo Stadium. The 2009 champions were reduced to 10 men in the dying minutes of a cagey first half when defender George Owino was sent off by referee Anthony Ongwayo following a foul on Joseph Emeka, who was in a clear goal scoring position.
Owino's departure saw coach David Ouma bring on another defender Eugene Asike for striker Heritier Luvualu as he sought to contain the marauding Tusker attack led by former AFC Leopards hit man Dennis Mukaisi. Tusker will rue the numerical advantage after Sofapaka cut them off completely. In fact, Sofapaka controlled much of the proceedings in the second and would have been 2-0 up if luck had played in their favour.
First, it was the Premier League leading striker and two-time Golden Boot winner John Baraza who had his shot on target saved by 'Kenya One' Bonface Oluoch. Baraza had managed to toy with the Tusker defence in a one-two with another international Bob Mugalia but Oluoch was well placed to fend off the attack with a full-stretched left-side save.
On 90 minutes, substitute Asike saw his header go off the post in what could have been a perfect performance for the former KCB defender. Tusker, however, also had their share of attacks with the most significant coming off substitute Fredrick Ojwang after 78 minutes. Sofapaka goalkeeper Duncan Ochieng had left his line and Ojwang saw a perfect situation to try his luck with a long range effort, floating the ball over Ochieng and Sofapaka were lucky that the ball missed the target just narrowly.
The draw saw Sofapaka move to 40 points (fourth on the standings) while Tusker has 42 at position three. However, it was a perfect score line for leaders AFC Leopards and second-placed Gor Mahia who are, coincidentally, chasing their 13th title in the top flight league. Leopards are perched on top with 45 points ahead of Gor Mahia's 43. If Tusker had won, they would have overtaken K'Ogalo in second place with 44 points while a win for Sofapaka could have enabled them leapfrog the defending champions to third with 42 points.
Ouma, handling his last match at the helm of the former champions, upon the arrival of Englishman Stewart Hall, was happy with the result especially considering that they were one man down. "There is still a chance (to win the title)," said Ouma. "We just need to keep our focus."
"We were just unlucky and the fact that we hit the post twice shows that we were still in the game despite the numerical disadvantage." His Tusker counterpart Robert Matano was a disappointed man and believes his charges should have taken advantage of their opponent's numerical deficit to propel their hopes of retaining the title.
"We did not play well at all. We should have won this match and congratulations to Sofapaka who were more organised. They were the better side," said Matano. He was, however, content with a point, the first they have secured from the Batoto Ba Mungu in their last five meetings.