Analysis : The four mistakes that cost AFC Leopards the derby against sworn rivals Gor Mahia

Analysis : The four mistakes that cost AFC Leopards the derby against sworn rivals Gor Mahia

Mark Kinyanjui 13:02 - 22.04.2024

These are the real reasons AFC Leopards lost the 95th Mashemeji derby to Gor Mahia.

AFC Leopards lost the 95th edition of the Mashemeji derby to Gor Mahia at a packed Nyayo National stadium on Sunday afternoon.

 It was a match that proved to be as dramatic as should be expected of a monstrous game.

Both teams were on relatively good runs of form heading into the match, and the fans had reason to be ecstatic, and it is thus no surprise that the stadium was filled to the brim for the first time in quite a while.

It turned out to be a game defined by the tightest of margins, considering the fact that both sides have had strong defences in recent months, and the fact that most of the attacking players were on fire heading into the match.

That proved to be the case, as was determined by the final scoreline, where AFC Leopards goalkeeper Levis Opiyo made a costly mistake against his former club, allowing Austin Odhiambo to score the only goal of the match before wheeling away, sending the Gor Mahia faithful into delirium.

However, this should have been AFC Leopards’ game for the taking after Gor Mahia were reduced to 10 men when keeper Kevin Omondi impeded Victor Omune, but television replays sensationally reveal that Omune appeared to dive, and there was minimal contact. 

Infact, had VAR intervened, Omune should have been booked for simulation.

Leopards huffed and puffed for the rest of the match but lost the game in the end. Many will blame the defeat on Opiyo’s mistake, and why not, he was  lackadaisical when passing the ball back to Kennedy Owino. Dallied too much on the ball, inviting the pressure from both Benson Omala and Odhiambo for the goal.

But that was not actually what cost AFC Leopards the match. The piece analyses the situations that really cost them the match:

1. Gor Mahia’s brilliant overloads on their right flank

Gor head coach Johnathan McKinstry announced a surprising line up by giving Musa Masika a rare start as a midfielder. 

Masika started as the right sided number 8, with Austin Odhiambo the left sided player and Alpha Onyango the deepest lying player, so he could use his energy to shuttle behind them.

For the opening 30 minutes, it was a decision that gave AFC Leopards all sorts of problems on their right flank.

Masika, his childhood friend Rooney Onyango and Sharrif Musa (ocassionally helped by Austin who was the free roaming playmaker) constantly created 3 v 2 situations down that side, with the idea being to pin back Hassan Beja and Vincent Mahiga, who have been very integral towards AFC Leopards attacks down that flank.

There were many situations where Rooney would drift into midfield in build up so that they could use his vision and passing range to find players in more dangerous positoons or make underlapping runs himself, allowing Musa to take up a right back position, while Sharrif Musa maintained width.

This lead to a big goalscoring situation in the fourth minute.

Rooney Onyango drove with the ball infield from the right flank
Before passing the ball to Musa Masika who attempted to cut inside on his left foot
The shot richochetts back to Rooney who attempts a shot at goal
But Opiyo parried the ball straight towards Sharrif Musa.
Who shot the ball to Opiyo again but he parried it towards Benson Omala who headed it wide.

The pattern would continue for much of the period both sides had 11 men, including again in the 17th minute when in build up to Bryson Wangai’s chance, it was Onyango’s crossfield ball that found him hugging that line before combining well with Odhiambo in a one-two situation before he met the return pass and attempted a shot that was saved by the Ingwe keeper.

However, once Omondi was sent off, McKinstry had to make the difficult situation of subbing off Masika for Caleb Omondi (more on him later) and retained his pacey options to play on the counter attack.

2. AFC Leopards lacked purpose while playing out from the back

Ingwe lacked purpose when playing out from the back. Normarly, they like to ensure that the ball gets to Kayci Odhiambo as much as possible, so he can use his vision and passing  ability to spray the ball between the lines properly.

However, Gor Mahia players were intelligent enough to cut the passing lanes in their 4-1-4-1 shape off the ball. The two number eights made sure that the lanes to Clifton Miheso, who was playing as the number 10 for AFC Leopards were few and far between.

This is what led to the goal in itself. Leopards tried building from the back, but there were no options to pass to, and Opiyo dithered too much when trying to pass the ball to Kennedy Owino.

Opiyo passes the ball to Kennedy Owino on the right
Who instantly passes the ball back to his keeper
Opiyo is however put in sixes and sevens by pressure applied by Omala and Othiambo
Before Odhiambo finds the back of the net.

3. Trying to go direct when reduced to ten men played into Gor Mahia’s hands

Leopards got too excited when Gor were reduced to ten men and tried going direct at every available opportunity, and even McKinstry himself was quick to point this out as a big reason they lost that match.

“AFC have a very clear strategy, they press high but they leave their defence very deep,” he said.

“They are quite a direct team anyway and we know that through the way they play. When they brought on Yakhama and Gitego,  we were very pleased about that because it was very obvious  they were gonna go very direct, which is why we started Joshua Onyango ahead of  Kennedy Onyango which may have raised a few eyebrows.

“But we know Joshua Onyango, his one on one performances, speed, passion (would help) and he and Sylvester were fantastic.”

“Caleb, I remember last year had to come on for the last 20 minutes against Bidco at Thika and was excellent in the air, coming for crosses, winning everything in the air and shot-stopped well.”

That is exactly what happened. Leopards tried to whip long balls whenever they could over the top, but it was impossible to beat the two Gor Mahia defenders and Caleb in the air.

It is therefore no surprise that in the end, Joshua Onyango was the man of the match for his imperious display.

Maxwell Otieno attempts to float a cross in towards Gitego...
But Onyango heads the ball wide.

4. Failing to play Maxwell Otieno at center forward

Eyebrows were raised among Ingwe faithful when Victor Omune was started ahead of Arthur Gitego at center forward for the match especially considering his hot streak of form.

It was understandable that the idea would have been to get a striker who likes to receive the ball to feet to start so that Ingwe would try to retain possession in the final third better, but if that was Tomas Trucha’s reasoning, many would have thought he should have started Maxwell Otieno there.

Otieno is excellent at floating across the front three given his low center of gravity, speed and genuine quality on the ball. He played an integral part when Ingwe started gaining momentum in December against Kakamega Homeboyz and knows how to hold up the ball.

Had he started, it would have been easier to draw the likes of Joshua Onyango out of position to create space for runners in behind.

Ingwe subbed on Arthur Gitego which did not work, and it would have been better if they worked the ball into the box and stayed patient when with a man advantage, because there was no way Gor Mahia would have been beaten in the air.

Leopards will have to lick their wounds after being gunned down by Gor Mahia in the end.The fans were triggered by the defeat as seen at full time when K’ogalo faithful stormed onto the pitch before matching towards the North-East stand of the stadium.

This prompted them to throw missiles back at them, before the law enforcement were forced to spray rubber bullets and teargas to calm things down.

As they prepare to face Compel FC in the quarterfinals of the FKF Cup, they will look back and wonder ‘what if’.