Nairobi — Whyvonne Isuza's 63rd minute goal was all that AFC Leopards needed to ease Kenyan Premier League relegation fears after humbling Ulinzi Stars 1-0 at their Afraha Stadium backyard in Nakuru on Tuesday.
Ingwe were hanging precariously near the drop zone, but the three points head coach Robert Matano picked against his former employers ensured they moved up the standings to 10th in the standings with 36 points.
The win against the Soldiers which is AFC's first since 2013, is a big morale booster for the 13-time Kenyan Premier League champions who ensured they warmed up for their GOtv Shield final against Kariobangi Sharks on Friday with maximum points.
Ulinzi fielded an almost makeshift squad with most of the first team players missing.
Defensive kingpin Geoffrey Kokoyo left-back Oliver Rutto and forward Sammy Onyango were all missing due to suspension while Mohammed Hassan was ruled out with injury as first choice keeper James Saruni is away on military duty.
In his starting team, Ulinzi head coach Benjamin Nyangweso fielded new signing Timothy Odhiambo in goal for his second match since joining from Sony Sugar while Rodgers Omondi slotted at left-back and Ben Sande partnered Omar Mbongi at centre-back.
Bernard Ongoma and Mark Bikokwa were also handed rare starts as Ulinzi sought to write off a poor spell that has seen them win only once in five matches.
AFC also had their own injury worries with regular centre-back Robinson Kamura missing, forcing midfielder Duncan Otieno to start while winger Samuel Ndung'u was also away with injury.
It was a game that wasn't devoid of chances. Inside the first minute, Marcelus Ingotsi won the ball on the right but his shot hissed across the face of goal begging for the slightest of touches with keeper Odhiambo beaten.
On the other end, Mbongi rose well at the edge of the six yard box to connect to a Daniel Waweru c
orner but his thumping effort went straight to Gabriel Andika in the AFC goal.
Ulinzi were culpable of defending set pieces poorly and they were almost caught in the fifth minute when Isuza shook off his marker to head in a corner from Musa Mudde, but keeper Odhiambo reacted well to keep the ball away.
The home side were trying to play the ball on the ground well, building up from the back but the final product always failed them with Bikokwa and Cliff Kasuti's decisions in attack not being the best.
Churchill Muloma had a brilliant effort with a volley from distance after AFC's clearance of a corner fell on his path but his rifling shot went just wide off target.
The visitors were more direct and whenever they had the ball, it was a quick switch to attack with searching balls for the forward duo of Vincent Oburu and Ingotsi.
In the 20th minute, Ulinzi's culpability in defending set pieces almost cost them when Mudde sprung up to head an Otieno freekick, but it went over.
Ulinzi shot-stopper Odhiambo was forced to make a good reflex save a minute later when a shot from Ingotsi on the left was deflected back to target by defender Omondi.
On the half hour mark, Oburu who had been making inroads into the Ulinzi defense all afternoon had his first effort on target with a shot after being flicked on by Mudde, but it went straight to Odhiambo's waiting arms.
At the stroke of halftime, it was Ulinzi who would have snatched the lead when Waweru found some shooting space from the right, but the effort went wide with Andika well beaten.
In the second half, Ulinzi Stars started stronger and had a close opportunity two minutes after the restart when Victor Majjid almost turned the ball into his own net as he tried to block away a cross from Kasuti.
But AFC turned the tide against their hosts and began to press more meaningfully and they finally had their reward in the 63rd minute.
Isuza had the simplest of tasks of directing the ball into the net unmarked at the edge of the six yard box from a Majid cross on the right. Ulinzi were guilty of ball watching as Majid casually found space on the right, had the time to look up and pick a cross.
The Soldiers put on some last ditch effort to get an equalizer, dumping balls into the Ingwe box but Salim 'Shittu' Abdallah put in an extra shift to defend the high balls and ensure the team warms up for the GOtv Shield final on Sunday with a win.