Gor Mahia vs Tusker: Review of an epic showdown of football styles

Tom Teka of Tusker(L) contests for the ball with Benson Omala of Gor Mahia as Humphrey Mieno looks on during their 0-0 draw at the Nyayo National Stadium on Sunday . Photo Credit: Gor Mahia

FKFPL Gor Mahia vs Tusker: Review of an epic showdown of football styles

Mark Kinyanjui 15:51 - 29.05.2023

Both title contenders were unable to get the best of each other in a match that epitomized what competition really is.

There was something about the Tusker versus Gor Mahia match which gave it a different feel from everything else this  FKFPL season so far. It might be because this was the game many handpicked as a ‘final’ between two genuine contenders.

It might be because the level of aggressiveness between both sides was very high or because, for Tusker, this was a chance for Robert Matano to prove the critics who despise his brand of football and prove them wrong as he said in his post-match interview.

This may just have been a league clash, but it felt like a winner-takes-it-all kind of clash.

It was a rare clash between two sides who showed how badly they want to win this title at the end of the season.

 Matano is known to set up his side, with people perceiving his football to be not too dissimilar to Jose Mourinho’s classic ‘park-the-bus’, safety-first football, while Johnathan McKinstry has set his side to be a pass-and-move type of side for the majority of the season.

Both sides were therefore widely expected to play in a contrasting manner, but they played in a way that looked very similar, as if both sides had converged.

Tusker were the ones who were taking the game to K'Ogalo in the first half, where they pressed very relentlessly without the ball and looked to work the ball into the box.

K'Ogalo were being forced to play route one by hoofing it long as they haphazardly tried to play their way out of Tusker’s aggressive mid-block setup.

They had to resort to creating chances through set pieces as Tusker did well to cut off the supply lines to Benson Omala who has been mercurial in front of goal this season. They were exposing themselves to counter-attacking situations when Tusker won the ball back upon defending them well.

The Brewers’ attacking midfielder Shapan Oyugi was chasing after the ball like an animal, and at one moment, he nearly scored one himself when Geoffrey Ochieng' cleared the ball poorly before Shapan found himself through on goal in the 43rd minute but failed to capitalize on it.

Tusker were even trying to wind up the opposition players in order to unsettle them. Striker Eric Otieno twice elbowed Gor Mahia’s Dennis Ng’ang’a in quick succession, Gor Mahia’s best chance creator on the day by virtue of being their set-piece taker.

Another Gor player, Omala, was also on the end of a scratch to his face by Charles Momanyi when he appeared to use his fingernails on the top scorer's face which McKinstry claims left a large scar ‘from the eyebrow down to the nape of his shoulder’.

In the second half, however, Gor Mahia were the ones in control. They looked much more dangerous in transitional situations and were forcing Tusker to make high turnovers of possession as they attempted to press them out of the game.

Matano’s charges were pinned back and for large parts of the first 30 minutes of that second half, reverted to a low-compact block as K'Ogalo had sustained moments of dominance. 

Tusker resorted to counter-attacks using their wings like they usually do, and one of those counter-attacks led to a goal by Mike Oduor, which was ruled out for offside.

However, Matano decided to make changes in the 79th minute, when he subbed on striker Deogracious Ojok and midfielders Lawrence Luvanda and John Macharia. Suddenly, they were controlling the game again in the last 10 minutes.

Ojok held the ball up magnificently, drawing the Gor defenders towards him and creating space for Luvanda and Macharia to run in behind. Rodgers Ouma and the brilliant Tusker captain Humphrey Mieno formed the base in midfield that made it difficult for Gor Mahia to continue exploiting them on the transitions.

Ultimately, a point was a good result for both. Tusker maintain their lead at the top with 65 points, with Gor Mahia just one point behind in second.

This season’s title race has been considerably more complex than we expected, with third-placed Nzoia Sugar still just five points behind Tusker on 60 points even though they lost to Kariobangi Sharks and still have a chance, but were given a huge blow by failing to get all three points on Saturday.

Both sides still have three games each to play and must face one side each with alot to play for. Tusker have to play a rejuvenated Wazito at the ill-famous Muhoroni stadium while Gor Mahia have to play Nairobi City Stars who are looking to avoid the drop. 

The outcome could still change over the three games, but Nyayo’s encounter between both sides showed how a title-decider should look like.