Gor Mahia XI; Onyango-Simone Pierre, HaronShakava, Musa Mohammed, KennedyOpiyo- Collins Okoth,EricOchieng, DanielOnyango-Joseph Kariuki, TimothyOtieno, Patrick Oboya.
Nakuru All Stars XI; Shaban Odhoji- Sikhai,Kanamuli Odhiambo, Akiya-Siwa, Lumumba, Ng’ang’a, Achesa- Mwaniki Nyang’or.
Bobby Williamson made three changes thanks to the absence of three players involved in International duty. Pierre got his first start of the season while Musa Mohammed returned to the team although in a central defense role.
The Nakuru side stuck with the team that earned them their second win of the season and their coach decided to stick to their usual approach against Gor Mahia- a considerably weakened Gor Mahia team.
The game witnessed a chaotic start with neither teams being able to comfortably control the midfield. Nakuru All Stars take most credit for this as their sustained pressing made it impossible for Gor Mahia to play through the middle; thus the home team resorted to playing balls over the top to their forwards. The strategy didn’t appear to work since K’ogallo lack the traditional center forward who thrives in such plays. It seemed as if it was going to be a frustrating afternoon for Gor until they scored from a set piece; interestingly, earned from an over the midfield pass to Oboya. It has to be said the goal itself was more of the All Stars’ defense poor zonal marking on the set piece than Gor Mahia’s brilliance. But in football one takes the goals as they come and Pierre got his name on the score sheet.
As mentioned earlier, All Stars were pressing well in the midfield but they were too hurried to pass forward when they did win the ball and so often their moves broke down due to poor decision making. Normally, the style
displayed by All Stars relies on pre-determined plays/movements (from the training field) to move forward but it looked like they had not been drilled well enough. Nothing confirmed this more than their inability to take advantage of Gor Mahia’s uneasy offside trap despite plenty of runners in behind. Credit has to be given to the Nakuru side though for covering spaces in between the lines (defense and midfield) usually left by 4-4-2s. On the downside, it meant lots of responsibility for Erastus Mwaniki to link the deep lying midfield with the attack.
For Bobby Williamson, it must have been a peculiar half. Gor Mahia were defending high up the pitch with a poorly coordinated offside trap; the midfield couldn’t impose itself against a team second from bottom; the attack never showed the intelligence to be wider and stretch All Stars for Gor’s central midfielders to shuttle into scoring positions and yet here his team was; leading by a goal against an opponent self-destructing almost every time they moved forward.
Towards the end of the first half something strange happened; and I must add we usually don’t get to experience these situations. Nakuru All Stars’ technical bench gave instructions to their players to pass the ball to the man instead of into the space. This was strange because, and it proved to be so, one only passes to the man on the offence if the players have the ability to beat their opponents. Paradoxically, they got their most dangerous moment after that. Lumumba maneuvering his way into Gor’s penalty area and seeing his effort come off the crossbar. Even so Gor’s highline was let off the hook by those instructions.
The second half started with Gor Mahia tearing into the All Stars defense with some brilliant counter attacks that witnessed Gor Mahia’s characteristic 1-2 plays. It was obvious that Bobby sought an early goal to kill the game off; actually all three K’ogallo forwards had dangerous opportunities to score from. The key reason for this improvement was Timothy Otieno. He acted as link man in attack and fittingly set up the other two forwards. The other reasons were, Gor abandoning over the top passes for quick and precise ball distribution usually seen in direct proactive styles of football. In essence, Gor Mahia was schooling Nakuru All Stars on their first half approach. Also the visitors pushed their wingers forward and resembled a 4-2-4 allowing the K’ogallo’s midfield time to play the ball forward.
In hindsight, one might say Bobby Williamson should have played conservatively and let All Stars exhaust themselves with their pressing had Siwa shown a bit more quality when he broke through. After all, the Rift Valley team did wane as the game progressed (as one expects of pressing teams) and were there for the taking late on.The tempo faded as a result;a tired pressing side chasing for an equalizer and the other team willing to see off the game.
The other notable thing in the rest of this pedestrian second half was all of Gor Mahia’s substitution being forced upon by injuries (which played a part in Gor Mahia not tweaking their tactics). If it indeed was caused by the pitch then the club needs to plan for a home-change next season and someone should be held accountable.
This was an even match-up by all standards and Gor Mahia managed to edge it thanks to their superior quality; as is the case in such matches. The club can now prepare to make a statement at CECAFA without looking behind their shoulders.