31 December 2012

Kenya: Battle Goes to Last Day

Tusker deny Gor on the last day of the season as Leopards shoot themselves in the foot.

The manner in which the 2012 season began in February did not give much indication on how dramatic the fight for the league title and survival was going to be, culminating in Tusker dramatically retaining their league title at the death at the expense of Gor Mahia who had led the league going into the final day of the season.

The brewers 3-0 drubbing of Nairobi City Stars coupled with Gor's 1-1 draw with Thika United saw the Ruaraka based side edge to the top of the pile by a single point.

It was season that also saw coaches pay the price of not meeting club expectations.Close to half the coaches who were at the helm when the season kicked off were shown the door by the time the season ended on November 10.

The protagonists Tusker, Gor and AFC Leopards began the season with points to prove. The brewers beat City Stars 2-1 while Gor won 2-0 away at Thika United with Leopards dropping points in a goalless draw against Chemelil Sugar.

It was however, Muhoroni Youth who took the plaudits in the opening month when the then newly promoted side sent shock waves into the local football scene.

They travelled to Nairobi and beat Gor Mahia 1-0 in match which marked the beginning of the end for Cameroonian coach Alaba Awono and midfielder Collins Okoth who missed a last minute penalty.

March belonged to Kenya Commercial Bank's Jacob Keli as he was the name on many peoples lips, storming to the top of the scoring charts after only five games following his hat-tcrick in the 4-0 drubbing of Nairobi City Stars.

Keli's treble was the first of the season but he faded into ignominy finishing the season on a paltry five goals scored in that period.

March also saw the start of the coaches purge as Awono and Mathare United coach Gabriel Njoroge were dismissed from their positions.

The month also saw crowd trouble rear its ugly head as Gor took on AFC Leopards at Nyayo with fans throwing objects to the field after Victor Ali was sent off for a dangerous tackle on Amon Muchiri.

The match which was being aired live on Supersport was stopped for 25 minutes as teargas canisters were lobbed into the crowd.

Inexplicably after consultation with KPL's Frank Okoth and technical head GMT Ottieno referee Davies Omweno restarted the match which eventually ended in a goalless draw.

The entry of nondescript Croatian Zdravko Logarusic as the head coach of Gor Mahia towards the end of the month was to change the KPL football landscape forever.

After a defeat to Ulinzi Stars Logarusic helped Gor to a stunning unbeaten run that saw them elevated from 14th when he took over to first on the final weekend of the season before they were pipped to the title by Tusker on the last day of the season.

Logarusic went on to be named the KPL coach of the year.Stanley Okumbi also joined Mathare and went on to take them to a respectable eighth position after tottering on the brink of relegation under Njoroge.

AFC Leopards were the team to beat by April as they were still on top of the league with Jan Koops' men enjoying an unbeaten ten match run heading towards the first half on top.

Then they blundered by taking their home match against defending champions Tusker to Mombasa where they lost 2-0. The defeat saw their season begin to unravel.

It was the costliest decision the club made this season.The month also saw news being made with Ulinzi Stars redeploying Benjamin Nyangweso, replacing him with his assistant Sammy Simiyu while Muhoroni Youth suspended Alfred Imonje as the pressure to get results continued taking its toll on coaches.

Mungia Kiongera followed his teammate Kelli into the record books as he notched a hat-trick for KCB when demolishing Oserian 3-0 at the end of the month.

The self proclaimed "special one" Ezekiel Akwana was not spared as he was also dismissed in his new job as Rangers coach.

The league was took a break in May. Sofapaka went into the break on top of the league table and looked good for a second trophy after their 2009 success.

Imonje was brought back to the Muhoroni technical bench as the club sought to find a steady hand to steer them to safety.

The transfer window opened in June and teams ran hither and thither looking to recruit players capable of helping them achieve set objectives in the second half of the season.

Gor Mahia captured Ugandan Danny Sserunkuma who was to prove a great success at the club. Tusker let Paul Were go to AFC Leopards with Brian Mandela and Jerry Santos going out of the country to play in South Africa and Tanzania respectively much to the ire of Tusker coach Sammy Omollo.

Rangers FC, without a coach, found the going tough as players left in droves leaving the club facing an uphill task to bring in new faces.

James Nandwa was brought in to steady the sinking Rangers as financial problems started to bite.The second half of the season resumed in July with Tusker promptly leaving for Tanzania where they were to take part in the Kagame Cecafa club championship returning empty handed and not having scored a goal in the group stages.

Leopards and Sofapaka continued to tussle for top position as K'Ogallo moved ominously into sixth position. Sserunkuma finally announced he presence when he led Gor to a 4-0 rout of his former side City Stars, scoring two goal, his first for Gor.

Rama Salim and Itubu Imbem the other goals. The blossoming Rama and Sserunkuma partnership became the talk of town for the remainder of the season as the two tore defenses apart in leading Gor's charge up the table.

In August Tusker coach Omollo found his team second in the league standings and within days he was out of a job. He was sacked ostensibly for taking on the club over the departures of Were, Santos and Mandela his three key players.

His assistant George Maina took charge briefly before the self claimed "Lion" Robert Matano was given the task of revitalising and salvaging the Ruaraka side's push for the title.

As if on cue, a week later, Sofapaka, despite still being firmly in contention for the league title, inexplicably parted ways with coach Salim Ali in late August to bring in Stuart Hall who had been let go by Tanzanian top league side Azam.

Gilbert Selebwa who had been appointed as technical director at Oserian to help Peter Oduor after Sammy Otinga was sent packing was also summarily dismissed from his new position.

Omollo was immediately installed as Oserian coach with special orders to help the club avoid relegation. Oserian, Rangers and Muhoroni Youth and City Stars were in the middle of the relegation dogfight.

In the middle of all the gloomy news, clubs had finally something to smile about in August as the league signed a Sh170 million sponsorship deal with Tusker that saw the clubs income improve tremendously.

The league was promptly re-branded Tusker Premier League in recognition of the new title sponsors.By September the league had taken the shape of a three horse race with AFC Leopards, Tusker and Gor Mahia jostling for top position.

The three churned victories every other weekend .Ingwe however faltered yet again as they wenton a run of six matches without victory culminating in the 2-1 defeat to arch rivals K'Ogallo that greatly reduced their self belief as the title race hit the final bend.

Sserunkuma scored two fabulous goals that put him on course for a fight for the golden boot. Leopard' lead at the top had quickly shrunk from the eight points to just two between them and Tusker.

It was soon to be wiped out altogether. In October Ingwe regrouped and went on a four match winning streak that pout them within touching distance of the title.

However, Gor and Tusker were also grinding out victories and the destination of the title was nowhere near certain. A victory for Gor was followed by wins for both Tusker and Leopards. None of the three teams was willing to give an inch.20 matches after Logarusic had engineered an unlikely return from the dead for the12- time Kenyan champions and so it was that the league would not be decided until the final two matches off the season.

Sserunkuma had left his best for last. He scored a fantastic hat-trick as Gor decimated Muhoroni Youth 3-0 to leave them on the edge of greatness, a match away from ending the agonising 17 year wait to lift the title.

Victories for Leopards against Mathare United and Tusker over Western Stima kept the race for the 2012 league title open going into the final day of he season.

While matters at the top were yet to be decided the short stay for Oserian on their return to the top flight league was confirmed with the 1-0 defeat by Sony Sugar.

But they ensured they did not go down alone as they walloped a sorry Rangers side 3-0 the next weekend to drag them along with them into the Nationwide league.

And so it was that the pot broke at K'Ogallo's door as the team they had so easily beaten away at the opening day of the season Thika United denied them the title holding them 1-1 to allow Tusker to become the first team in the KPL era to retain their league title by beating Nairobi City Stars 3-0.

For Leopards a season that held so muchpromise ended in a whimper as they were beaten 1-0 by Chemelil Sugar to leave them third, two points behind Tusker.

Gor received a consolation prize when Logarusic and Sserunkuma were named the coach and the player of the year respectively.

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