MICHAEL Sarpong was the hero of the day as he inspired Rayon Sports to a vital 1-0 victory over leaders and defending champions APR to narrow the gap at the top of the Azam Rwanda Premier League table.
APR went into Saturday's game at Amahoro National Stadium, against bitter rivals Rayon, six points clear at the top, but ended the evening with only a three-point lead after tasting their third league defeat this term.
A Rayon Sports fan lifts lone scorer Michael Sarpong on his shoulders after inspring the Blues to the 1-0 win over traditional rivals APR
Sarpong scored from the spot in stoppage time to earn all the points for Rayon Sports after Emmanuel Imanishimwe brought down Gilbert Mugisha in the penalty area.
It was Sarpong's 11th league goal for the Blues, and the Ghana-born striker trails joint leading scorers; Jules Ulimwengu (Rayon) and Djuma Nizeyimana (SC Kiyovu) by just one goal.
Mugisha came off the bench with seven minutes to clock, replacing Eric 'Radu' Iradukunda who was noticeably exhausted.
Rayon Sports fans at a fully packed Amahoro Stadium cheer on their players during the 1-0 victory
Rayon Sports, who are bidding for a first league title since 2017 and a spot to the 2019/2020 CAF Champions League, will be seeking to earn maximum points and hope that APR slip up in the final seven-match sprint to the end of the season.
With the victory over Zlatko Krmpotić's side, it is reported that every Rayon Sports player will receive in excess of Rwf500,000 in match bonuses. It was Roberto Oliveira's first league win against APR since joining Rayon as head coach last May.
Michael Sarpong vies for the ball with APR centre-back Herve Rugwiro during the 1-0 win on Saturday
The military side started the game with a lot of pressing, and could have earned an early lead through Fitina Omborenga and Muhadjiri Hakizimana but their chances were squandered.
With APR having difficult fixtures against SC Kiyovu and AS Kigali, Rayon are optimistic about the club's ninth league title, and the third since 2013.
Rayon Sports goalie Andre Mazimpaka was outstanding on the night as Rayon Sports beat APR 1-0 at Amahoro Stadium
The hosts, Rayon, came close to opening the scoring after ten minutes following a defensive howler from Herve Rugwiro, but Uliwengu's effort went wide.
The Blues continued to cause trouble to APR back-line that comprised Rugwiro, Michel Rusheshangoga and Prince Buregeya, but Ulimwengu and Sarpong struggled to find the back of Yves Kimenyi's net to ensure that the first-half ended goalless.
Rayon Sports, joined by fans, celebrates the crucial victory over APR after the final whistle
Five minutes into the second-half, APR made their first change with Innocent Nshuti coming on for Lague Byiringiro to boost their attack, but the new input caused little trouble to a steady Rayon defence that was led by skipper Thierry Manzi and his centre-back partner Ange Mutsinzi.
Both sides kept the chase on for a crucial opener, with Rayon relatively controlling the possession, but it was not until the 92nd minute that Sarpong would score the only goal on the night.
Rayon Sports 'hero of the day'
Centre referee Claude Ishimwe did not hesitate to point to the penalty spot after Imanishimwe's challenge on second-half substitute Mugisha in the box, which Sarpong converted well to earn the 'hero of the day' praise in front of a packed to maximum capacity Amahoro Stadium.
WHAT IS NEXT?
After the league's biggest fixture between the two local heavy weights, APR host Bugesera FC in their next game, on match-day 24, at Kigali Stadium on April 27 while Rayon will be up against AS Muhanga at Muhanga Stadium the next day.
Rayon 1-0 APR