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Leopards throw hurdle in the way of Gor and record 17th league title

For the last couple of years, AFC Leopards have played second fiddle to Gor Mahia whenever they meet and the big cats have a chance to cast away this disturbing spell when they meet in the two teams 85th Mashemeji Derby at Moi International Sports Centre (MISC), Kasarani on Saturday.

For cup holders Gor, who have been involved in congested fixtures following their engagement in the CAF Confederation Cup assignments, beating Leopards, has been a routine of sorts and whether Ingwe has the capacity to turn the tables remain to be seen.

Despite honouring the continental assignments, Gor have been on a free roll which was choreographed in their 2-1 win over Ingwe the last time the two sides met in the first leg of the league front on July 22 at the same setting.

And what is obvious is that Leopards Argentine coach Rodolfo Zapata will be under immense pressure to win his first Mashemeji Derby since replacing Dennis Kitambi.

Despite the inferior record against Gor, Leopards have proved a pretty hard nut to crack for K’Ogalo especially when things do not seem to go the way of the big cats.

During their last meeting, the views of pundits were that the vastly improved Leopards were unlucky to lose to Gor whose defence backpedalled time and again due to incessant raids by Ingwe.

In fact, Whyvonne Isuza, who scored Ingwe’s lone goal, alongside Nigerian import Alex Orotomal, made Gor defence line of Joachim Oluoch, Godfrey Walusimbi, Joash Onyango and Haroun Shakava look so ordinary and were unlucky not to find the back of the net during the many times they made forays into the ‘enemy’s’ territory.

While Gor who are topping the SPL chart with unassailable 68 points and are gunning for an unprecedented 17th title, Leopards have not tasted the gong since 1998 and only have 13 titles to their name.

However, it may sound braggadocio of sorts, but Leopards coach Rodolfo has issued a stern warning to Gor ahead of the derby.

“I usually say this team (Leopards) is one of the biggest not only in Kenya but Africa at large. Against Gor Mahia, we have to show character. We have to push ourselves to the maximum and show we are better. This is a game I believe we can win, we have had an amazing run and confidence is good,” said Zapata. On paper, Gor start favourites and according to their coach Dylan Kerr, this is a match like any other and that his charges can’t wait to extend their supremacy over the felines.

“As I have always said before, we always play with a winning mentality. We need to strike an intelligent balance between attacking and defending and this way, we should be able to beat Leopards hands down,” said Kerr.

During Gor’s latest league match in which they beat Sofapaka 3-0, Kerr gambled with fringe players like Eliud Lokowum and Boniface Omondi who are likely to make the cut in the starting list.                   -CHARLES THUKU

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