10 December 2018

Kenya: Gor Mahia Third League Title in Danger After Rusty Start

Gor Mahia's stuttering start to the 2018/2019 SportPesa Premier League (SPL) rekindles the 2016 season when the reigning Kenyan champions finished the season trophy less.

The back-to-back league champions lost 2-1 away to Bandari in their opening league match on Saturday, their second consecutive defeat on home soil after a 1-0 loss to the less fancied Kariobangi Sharks in the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) Super Cup a week ago.

Shambolic preseason preparations, unceremonious departure of Briton coach Dylan Kerr last month and looming transfer of star midfielder Francis Kahata to Algerian champions CS Constantine looks to have demoralized K'Ogalo early.

Can a yet to be unveiled Turkish-Cypriot coach Hassan Oktay replicate the 2013 to 2015 season by turning around the team's flailing fortunes and deliver their third league title in as many years?

It is under similar chaotic preseason that they gave up the league title in 2016 to Tusker after they had won it three years in a row.

In 2016, K'Ogalo lost key players in Michael Olunga to IF Djurgarden (Sweden), Meddie Kagere left for Albania while midfield kingpin Ali Abondo joined Ajax Cape Town in South Africa.

The departures destabilised Gor Mahia who went on lose 1-0 to Bandari in KPL Super Cup followed by three consecutive draws. It's a feeling of déjà vu in Gor's camp.

Their long time rivals AFC Leopards hit them 1-0 in March, a loss that led to the resignation of their Scottish tactician Frank Nutall and later his assistants Bobby Ogolla and Frank Ouna.

Brazilian José Marcelo Ferreira (Ze MAria) took over from the Scot but he was unable to stem the tide losing the 2016 title to the Brewers. Ze Maria quit the club in July last year for FK Tirana in Albania.

Kerr took over the rudderless ship and guided the team to back to back titles before resigning while on holiday in his native Britain in November.

That aside, a hectic schedule awaits them in this transitional 2018/19 season with about 60 matches to play in all competitions by June which translates to at least eight games per month.

This includes traversing the continent for their inter-club championship ties should they advance to the group stages of either Caf Champions League or Confederation Cup, the latter dependent on aggregate score against Nigerian outfit Lobi Stars, who are expected in the country on Thursday for the first round first leg clash at Kasarani stadium three days later.

Already, Gor has honoured three of the eight matches slated for this month. Ten fixtures await them next month including the SportPesa Super Cup in Dar es Salaam and eight in February.

Tomorrow's league fixture against Zoo Kericho at Kasarani becomes their fifth game in 15 days.

Gor's closest challengers Bandari and Sofapaka, who were victorious over the weekend, as well as eleven-time champions Tusker, who drew 1-1 in Awendo, could ride on the champions's expected fatigue to wrestle the title from their clutch.

"We will manage the fatigue, had it been in place, we wouldn't have pressed Bandari like we did in the second half, hard luck, but we remain focused," Gor captain Harun Shakava said after the weekend loss to Bandari.

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