A rare error of judgment by respected whistler Nasur Doka, a missed penalty and defensive lapse combined to help Gor Mahia dethrone Ulinzi Stars as the champions of the Kenyan Premier League Top 8 tournament.
A tightly fought final match at the Moi International Sports Center, Kasarani burst into life in extra time after 90 minutes of regulation time ended scoreless.
For the umpteenth time this season, Gor had free scoring striker Rama Salim and second half substitute Itubu Imbem to thank for the two goals scored in the first period of extra time after Ulinzi had missed a penalty earlier in the game.
Ulinzi started the match brightly and fired the first warning in the 8th minute when former Gor Mahia striker Wycliff Ochomo burst forward on the right flank and hit a hard shot which Gor captain and goalkeeper Fredrick Onyango fisted back into play.
As the match progressed, Gor got their rhythm and on the quarter hour mark, a searching cross from midfield found Salim on the break.
The diminutive striker drew out Jacktone Odhiambo only for Mulinge Munandi to hack away his cut back intended for Dan Sserunkuma.
In the 33rd minute, a timely tackle on Victor Abondo, after he had been put through by Salim, denied Gor what should been a sure goal.
But the defining moment of the game came in the 38th minute when Onyango correctly dived to his right to smother Anthony Nderitu’s penalty awarded for a handball in the box by Ivan Anguyo.
Ulinzi were calling the shot in the first half and Onyango once again did well to palm Kevin Amwayi’s in-swinging free kick over the bar on the stroke of half time.
Chances were at a premium in the second half as both teams applied the brakes, though Ulinzi continued to look dangerous on the break. Onyango did well to keep out a fierce long range shot by Nderitu in the 57th minute.
With extra time and the possibility of penalty shoot-out looming, the match tempo exploded in the final 15 minutes with both teams creating several chances.
First, Edwin Lavatsa, who came in for Victor Abondo in the first half, was upended by Jacktone Odhiambo after being put through by Kevin Omondi.
Then Amuoka and Ochomo each spurned decent chances in the final five minutes before Salim went agonizingly close with the final kick of regulation time.
But the advantage quickly swung Gor’s way just two minutes into extra time in the most controversial of ways.
Jacktone Odhiambo fluffed Salim’s header from Moses Odhiambo’s corner, and although Lawrence Owino appearing to have cleared the ball on the line, center referee Doka awarded the goal as the roof came down on the 60,000-seater facility.
If the first goal was contentious, Gor effectively killed off the match in the 103rd minute with a clear goal this time.
Lavatsa peeled away from his markers after picking the ball from deep within his own half but was fouled just as he offloaded the ball to Salim.
With the static Ulinzi defenders hoping to have the ball stopped for a foul, Salim picked out Itubu Imbem on the edge of the box for the Congolese striker to find the back of the net with a side footed shot.
Thoroughly rattled, Ulinzi threw all men forward in search of a goal in the last fifteen minutes, but Gor held on to clinch the first silverware of the season.
Ulinzi coach Sammy Simiyu conceded defeat but rued the many chances that his men failed to convert.
“This one is gone and we will not dwell on the past. We can now only focus on the next fixture. This is the nature of football”, Simiyu said.
Gor coach Zdravko Logarusic on his part commended Ulinzi for a good match but admitted that this wasn’t the best performance by his team.
“We didn’t play very well but getting the first goal titled the scales in our favour”, Logarusic noted.
Fredrick Onyango who kept three clean sheets in as many matches in the tournament was voted man of the match.
Gor Mahia: Fredrick Onyango, Solomon Nasio, David Owino, Ivan Anguyo, Donald Mosoti, Anthony Akumu, Victor Ali (Edwin Lavatsa), Joseph Njuguna (Itubu Imbem), Dan Sserunkuma (Kevin Omondi)
Ulinzi Stars: Jacktone Odhiambo, Kevin Ouma (Kevin Simiyu), Kevin Amwayi, Geoffrey Kokoyo, Mulinge Munandi, Stephen Ocholla, Stephen Waruru, George Otieno, Evans Amuoka, Wycliff Ochomo, Anthony Nderitu (Lawrence Owino).
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