Form rarely counts in a cup game. The one-off nature of a cup coupled with the motivation of a prize often lifts a football team as to render its previous misfortunes negligible.
That could be what is happening to KCB. Despite poor results in the Tusker Premier League, they are managing the sort of results in the Top 8 competition to be proud of amidst their circumstances.
It was not however a display of sheer majesty and it rather resembled that of their previous round where determined defending had seen them get through. At the Nyayo National Stadium though on Wednesday afternoon, their attempted solidity saw them come out with a 1-1 draw. More importantly however, the away goal could come in handy in the second leg.
AFC Leopards lined up in a 4-3-3 as KCB lined up in a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1. Already, the match ups on paper meant that Ingwe would dominate the midfield. With all things constant, a 4-3-3 beats a 4-4-2 on any day on the pure simple logic that the 3 in the middle of midfield outnumber the 2 from the opposing side.
It clearly showed early on. AFC captain Martin Imbalambala was the holder with Musa Mudde and Bernard Mang’oli shuttling either side of him. This meant that the KCB duo of Michael Oyando and Tirus Omondi were constantly overwhelmed in the middle.
The pattern of the early minutes thus saw AFC dominate possession, with KCB unable to build or string a number of successful passes together. Their easiest passes were down the line — an area from which there was no room to create from this therefore meant AFC had the freedom of the centre.
AFC would probably not have been that dominant had Paul Mungai Kiongera moved from his number 10 role to become a third midfielder and thus assist his midfield. It was he who could have stopped AFC’s early dominance, but he looked rather laboured and lazy. It could be the effect of lack of confidence from his dwindling form but unless he was told otherwise by his manager, he should have dropped back a little rather than staying so high up the pitch when his team was under siege.
Even with that possession, AFC struggled to create clear cut scoring opportunities. That could be because KCB defended deep (as they did in the previous round against Ulinzi) and so AFC were constantly faced with a number of bodies in and around the penalty box.
They probably should have shown more creativity having had so much of the ball. Instead, AFC resorted to utilising the space out wide. In particular, it seemed as if they were targeting Dennis Omondi in the right back position with Paul Were using his pace to get past him and Oscar Kadenge using his trickery. Adding on to that, the overlapping runs of Juma Abdalla caused a threat and on many occasions, the Ingwe left back was left in acres of space to switch balls to the other side with long diagonals.
KCB on the other hand struggled. Unable to build down the center, their best hope lay with catching Leopards on the break — something they did not do quickly enough. Also, the deployment of a 16 year old Crispinus Onyango on the left hand side was a relative failure. He came up against the experience of James Situma and was on more than one occasion easily bundled off the ball. His lack of physicality meant that he could not hold up the ball well and/or long enough to allow runners from deep to reach in time to assist him.
If there was any similarity between the two sides, it was how hopelessly they defended set-pieces. KCB was exposed more by this as the continuous corners they conceded left them facing set-pieces on many an occasion. It probably produced Leopards’ best chances in the first half.
However, it is the Bankers who capitalised on poor defending to take the lead from a set-piece. Sosthenes Idah free kick from the right saw Andrew Murunga score a free header past Wycliffe Kasaya. AFC cannot put so much blame on Kasaya as the proximity of the chance to the goal increased its probability of going in. The AFC defence was however at fault on three accounts,
a) Murunga is not the tallest of players and relied more on finding space in the penalty box than from an audacious leap.
b) That Murunga had that much space was criminal bearing in mind that there were four AFC Leopards shirts in and around the six yard box as the cross came in. None of them picked up a man and they were not compact enough to deny Murunga that space.
c) The four AFC defenders who were in and around the six yard box retreated too deep to allow Kasaya the space to come out for the ball.
AFC would also get a goal from a set-piece, but rather than poor defending, theirs was a case of Juma Abdalla whipping in a measured in swinger with his left foot which Jacob Keli got his head to. Abdalla had done so on multiple occasions before (and would do so on multiple occasions after) and this was just a case of the law of averages balancing out and a well delivered set-piece finally resulting into a goal.
Another key feature of the game was the two red cards.
Contrary to what might be perceived by both teams, having a man sent off, this was a game with relatively few bookings. Referee Anthony Ogwayo handed out six yellow cards (two of them to Idah) and two red cards (one straight to Musa Mudde). It however was not an ill-tempered or violent match. The emotions were kept in check for most periods of the game and the red cards were only as a result of reckless challenges from the players involved.
Oddly, after Mudde’s red card, there were no bookings for the rest of the game. Maybe the players, having seen two red cards already brandished, became more cautious with their challenges so as to avoid unnecessary bookings.
The first red card however had more of a bearing as to how the second half evolved. Coming on 40 minutes, it forced KCB deeper as they sought to hold on to the lead until at least the half time break. Once Idah got sent off, KCB manager Rishadu Shedu adopted extreme caution, and moved Murunga from right wing to right back with Francis Ouma moving from the number 9 role and performing the right wing duties. It did leave KCB in a sort of 4-4-1-0 formation, with Kiongera the furthest forward player but still playing as a number 10.
After the break however, Shedu brought on a right back for Ouma, meaning that Murunga returned to his position on the wing and there was more defensive balance to the KCB side.
With a man advantage, Abdallah Juma on the Leopards bench opted to bring on Keli for one of his midfielders. This meant that now AFC had two strikers up front for more of an attacking threat. In turn however, the one less midfielder meant that they could not control the game as easily as they had in the first half. This made the game open up a bit more but the risk was worth it as AFC piled on more pressure on the KCB goal. That momentum carried on even after the game had been levelled at 10 men each side and AFC were able to equalise.
In the end
KCB’s defensive display still looks too deep, but is still good enough as it has avoided a defeat thus far in this competition. At times, they have had to ride their luck and Sammy Okinda’s vulnerability to aerial balls may yet result in them being punished. They do however set up in the most underdog of fashions and a dark horse win may thus be on the cards.
By the time the second leg comes around, AFC could be with their third first team manager in three Top 8 KPL games. Whether that instability will give way to more assured stability remains to be seen; as such, the 1-1 draw was a poor result from a team of superior quality on the day. They now must prove their worth in the return leg.
Mike Njoroge is a regular contributor to Superfoota and writes his own blog, FutbolTriangle. He has also been published by Here Is the City, Beyond the Ninety Minutes and kandanda.co.ke. You can follow him on Twitter @MikeNjoro