Ulinzi Stars; Saruni- Birgen, Rutto, Hassan, Kokoyo- Onyango, Amwayi, Ocholla- Amwoka, Waruru, Nairuka.
City Stars; Majani- Ongwae, Amboko, Otieno, Okoth- Masawa, Marasowe, Ochieng- Basweti, Abege, Kamau.
Matano made only a single change; bringing in Ocholla for Apul in midfield.
Bryett, on the other hand, brought in 3 players after the defeat to AFC Leopards.
The game started in an uncharacteristic fashion for the KPL, especially between teams on the same half of the table, with one of the side settling into the game from the go. Ulinzi kicked off
the game in impressive fashion; but on closer scrutiny, it was due to their guests sitting deep. This gave the soldiers lots of space to do as they pleased in midfield, as
they moved into attack, and they chose to play in a frenetic manner. Robert Matano must have expected City Stars to sit deep so he chose this approach to try and disorganize them with movement.
And it earned them a free-kick barely a minute into the game. City Stars were under a lot of pressure.
City Stars adapt
Tim Bryett showed good game management, with City Stars moving a bit higher to ease the pressure by eating away the space
Ulinzi had in midfield. Clearly, most of Stars’ efforts were going to be focused on defending and
this showed thanks to a most basic attack plan; pumping balls to Abege. They planned to use his sheer physical presence to create scrapes from which to get a goal or two. Anyway, they lacked the ability to match Ulinzi in midfield- considering the tempo they were
playing in. Whether you consider it luck or ingenuity, City Stars scored against the run of play
(which doesn’t mean anything really); Okoth heading in Manasowe’s cross and, more importantly, Abege was involved in the goal build-up despite being subject to man-marking by Kokoyo.
For the second time, Bryett showed his expertise; City Stars were pressing in midfield immediately after their goal. This
was Ulinzi’s least attacking period as their creator, Amwayi, was forced to move deep to get the ball and be comfortable on it.
Equalizer from nothing
One impressive thing about Ulinzi is that they maintained the high tempo in the first half’s entirety; this despite the solar heat in what was an after-lunch kickoff. They had free reign on the flanks (defending teams, almost, always defend narrowly) but couldn’t cause a true danger from open
play. They earned corners and free-kicks but City Stars were relatively comfortable in handling them.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, City Stars showed the lack of tactical
thinking that plagues the local game. Five minutes to the break, there was a lapse in concentration in defense and a
harmless ball into the box ended
up being another league goal for Stephen Waruru (to digress, a man who could have been the National Team’s go-to-forward had Ulinzi enabled a move away from Afraha eons ago).
Abege, who had been injured in the first half, came off for Kevin Oliech and thus the end of the pumping strategy for City Stars. Despite lack of hold up ability, Kevin Oliech can run onto and
behind defenders yet we never really got to see this. To be fair, Ulinzi’s pressure created a huge
gap between midfield and attack; meaning they relied on individual work for transitions- a big ask for most players.
Ulinzi didn’t make any meaningful strategy changes. Actually, a shift by City Stars’ forward, Kamau, was the catalyst to Matano’s side showing variety- his move to the left wing allowed
Rutto to overlap and add width. They also continued playing in the high tempo and it would only be a matter of time before the engines ran dry. For all their pressure, they still lacked the guile to create chances from open
play. It is common knowledge
that the best way to unsettle defenses sitting deep is trying cut-backs instead of aerial cross therefore it was surprising Ulinzi played the latter throughout.
As prophesied (haha), Ulinzi players couldn’t maintain the tempo that their coach kept asking from them. This created a
lull and allowed City Stars to pass comfortably in the midfield for the first time in the game. Matano
responded by making two substitutions in midfield and his team attacking strategy could only be termed as see-saw. A combination of idealess diagonal and lateral crosses into the box, and, of course, the “no-patience” approach that had characterized
much of their game. But that is not what caught the eye (and ear); the Ulinzi coach was repeatedly
brought into focus in the match’s latter stages and he appeared to be micro-managing his team. Make of that what you will.
This was a great game for the underdog supporter (of which, I’m not) and for Bryett’s charges, a step closer to another City Stars survival. In the words of the commentator, “…a point away is a point gained…”