- Gor have played two matches less than their opponents.
It used to be the fixture that brought the whole nation to a standstill. The winner of the furiously contested ties was almost assured of going all the way to be crowned Kenyan champions.
Christened the Mashemeji derby, the fixture might not have the allure, identity and even defining moments it used to have in the last three decades, but the urge to grab the bragging rights has never been eroded.
Champions Gor Mahia host eternal rivals AFC Leopards in the first installation of the Mashemeji derby on Sunday at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani with both teams out to make an early statement.
A win for either side - who are tied on 15 points with Gor second and Leopards in third place - will catapult them to the summit of the standings should leaders Tusker falter against KCB on Saturday. Gor have played two matches less than their opponents.
Gor come into this match in the wake of two successive defeats - a 2-1 loss to DC Motema Pembe in Kinshasa which ended their participation in the Caf Confederation Cup and a 1-0 defeat to Mathare United in the Kenyan Premier League - while Leopards played to a 0-0 draw against Ulinzi Stars in their last league outing.
Last season, K'Ogalo hit Ingwe home and away but in overall, it is Leopards who have dominated the derby – in 88 league meetings, they have won 26 times, three times more than Gor while the rivals have drawn 39 times.
Looking at the recent head-to-head record, Gor Mahia have an upper hand and this is something that AFC Leopards are eager to change. Team Manager Tom Juma says the team is in good shape.
“We have prepared very well and going for a win. In recent derbies we have had challenges especially with injuries to key players but at the moment we have a full squad to choose from and that gives us confidence heading into this match,” the former Kenyan International said.
AFC Leopards have overcame a lethargic start to the season and are currently third on the KPL standings after eight matches. Juma attributes this to the signing of quality players especially striker John Mark Makwata who has so far scored five goals and the arrival of custodian Benjamin Ochan.
“We lacked a typical striker but Makwata has been impressive since he came in. Ochan too has done a good job and I think the two have given us the additional punch we have been lacking. The unity in the team too has played a key role and I think the team has gelled well now. Football is a process and you have to be patient, put in the work and the results will come,” Juma said.
Leopards captain Robinson Kamura, who only resumed training three weeks ago, echoed the team manager’s sentiments: “We have good players in the team now and the competition for places is very high in every department which is good for the team. There are bragging rights in the derby as well as the crucial three points to be won – the spirit in the team is fantastic heading into the game and we are very eager to win. Gor has dominated the recent meetings and we have to change the narrative.”
This will be Steven Polack’s first Mashemeji derby in charge at Gor Mahia and he says he is aware of the importance of the game.
“Nobody likes to lose and we have put that (loss to Mathare) behind already. I have been involved in derbies before as a player and as a coach and I know what it means to the players, coaches and fans," Polack said.
"Playing in front of 40,000–50,000 fans in itself is motivation enough for every single player to perform well. The adrenaline streams down from the stands to the players and even the coaches. I expect a tough but entertaining game and I call upon the fans to turn out in large numbers to push and encourage us throughout the match.”