AFC Leopards; Kasaya- Edwin, Situma, Saleh, Juma- Mang’oli, Imbalambala, Okwemba, Mudde- Wafula, Ikenna.
Gor Mahia; Onyango- Mohammed, Shakava, Owino, Walusimbi- Okoth, Ochieng, Kizito- Otieno, Sserenkuma, Oboya.
AFC had two changes from their win against City Stars, Kasaya and Okwemba in for Musalia and Mieno respectively. They lined up in a 4-4-2.
Gor Mahia had the International contingent return to their respective positions after missing their last two matches- in the league and GoTv shield. There fielding was a 4-3-3 system.
The manner this game started in, one would have been forgiven to think Gor Mahia were the team fighting for a top 8 finish and that AFC were closing in on back to back league titles. While both teams showed proactive intentions, there was a difference in each team’s approach. The Leopards played in an elaborate proactive style, passing the ball around in midfield thanks to having that quality in the team. On the other hand, Gor Mahia was
doing a direct version- bypassing the midfield or making as little touches as possible there. Truth be told, Gor Mahia simply doesn’t have the midfield to play the former style. They were either going to chase the ball around the entire afternoon or sit deep.
They chose to play to their pedigree in the beginning; trying to hustle in midfield and play their usual high line that was
ruthlessly exposed in their previous encounter with AFC. It wasn’t any different here, except for lesser quality; K’ogallo was being caught out by Wafula’s runs in behind the high line (predictably on Walusimbi flank)
and they were being outnumbered in midfield-peculiar, considering it was 4-4-2 vs 4-3-3. The reason for this was that AFC played narrowly, Wafula the only one stretching the defense, and never had to worry about a Gor Mahia player troubling them between the lines as they have no creator. Imbalambala, who would have had to cover for that, was thus free to be an extra passing
option. Gor Mahia fuelled this by the fact that their wingers never
move higher to support and they just don’t press hard as a team. On another day they would have been punished, only this time they saw a Wafula cut back fluffed
The only thing I can credit Williamson for in this game is that he took the warning and asked his team to sit deeper- with the midfield protecting right ahead of the defense. It cooled the tempo and pressure his team was under. Of course, this detached the offense from the rest of the team and it was “sad” to see the individual works of Timothy Otieno and, to a lesser extent, Oboya become their attack strategy and more so with AFC’s narrow positioning denying them runs between the channels. Sserenkuma was moving higher to get the ball between the lines and
acted as a link man occasionally. Saleh, who handled him well in
the box, was never enthusiastic in moving up with him- probably,
fearing being beaten and breaking the defensive shape.
The goals came in the last period of the first half; Wafula striking home from close range after a flick by partner, Ikenna. It must be mentioned that Wafula was the star of the first half. His movement to and fro the right caused confusion in Gor Mahia’s defense and they genuinely had
trouble picking up as compared to the more stationary Ikenna. The league leader’s goal came from the likely man in the most unlikely situation; Sserenkuma evading Saleh and heading home
from a corner. It was a hit for
AFC’s efforts in a first half that they were cruising in.
The long half time break made me come to the realization that the Gor Mahia-AFC Leopards rivalry mirrors the Egypt-Algeria rivalry; one is more decorated hence truly the superior team and
the other derives more meaning
from winning the encounters to mask the success inferiority-explaining the superior head-to-head tally (okay, you now know the team I support).
Gor Mahia started the second half in great fashion; Sserenkuma benefited from AFC’s struggles in lateral defending to score after being put onside by a deflection off a Leopard’s player. It put the game right where Gor Mahia wanted tactics-wise, for AFC it was
harsh punishment for slacking
just twice (TWICE!!) in defense for the entire game. The green team decided to sit back the entire game whilst de Jong switched to 4-3-3 for the blue team; bringing in Jacob Keli for Mudde.
AFC pushed forward in attack, moving their midfield alongside causing lots of space between defense and midfield and lots
of work for Imbalambala. Gor’s forwards took advantage of this space and they, if only momentarily, showed dangerous play on the counter albeit without creating dangerous chances. Jong responded by moving his defense
higher to close the gap and Gor Mahia’s central creativity deficiency surfaced again- they had nobody to play passes behind this line and only played
speculative long balls forward. This allowed AFC to put more focus in attack and Keli was now
their most lively player. Wafula was exhausted due to the work he had put in the first half and, for all his talents, couldn’t work the ball in tight spaces a la Paul Were. Bobby Williamson didn’t have anything different on the bench to offer in attack so he chose to protect continue protecting his
lead; bringing on Simon Mburu, who is willing to “work”, in place of
Patrick Oboya (a player I find difficulty in categorizing as either good or bad…or average).
The Leopards made the long overdue change in bringing on Mieno as Gor Mahia maintained their deep position. Theoretically,
he would pick better passes forward and pull Gor Mahia’s midfielders out of position. That’s not what happened. The free defensive midfielder, Martin Imbalambala, benefitted from K’ogallo’s mid sitting deep to gain space and score from long range.
It must have dawned on Williamson that he should have asked Timothy Otieno to track back in a 4-4-1-1 shape instead of the 4-4-2 they had shifted to.
In the end, Gor Mahia yet again walked off the pitch the happier team despite a string of awful performances (to be fair, more as a result of the lack of required personnel than the Coach’s failings). For AFC Leopards,
they paid for their poor lateral defending but that aside it was a performance worthy of building upon.
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