COMMENT: A record 18th KPL title, but what next for champions Gor Mahia?

Goal Kenya.
Here is how K’Ogalo easily retained the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) title with two matches to spare

With two games to the conclusion of the 2019/18 seasons, Gor Mahia have sealed their record 18th Kenyan Premier League (KPL) title.

A 1-1 draw against Vihiga United did not deter the Green Army from defending their title for the third straight season and stamping their authority on Kenyan soil in the last decade.

For the record, only Gor Mahia have managed to win the title three times consecutively thrice. 

They have, however, won the league under different managers. Bobby Williamson was in charge in 2013 and passed the reigns to Frank Nuttall. Under Nuttall, Gor Mahia were crowned twice in 2014 and in 2015 where he managed to retake the title unbeaten.

And then came Dylan Kerr, who won the title in the 2017 season. He quit to join Black Leopards in South Africa and left Hassan Oktay to maintain the dominance in the 2018/19 season.

Gor Mahia coach Hassan Oktay celebrates with the players.

What made this season so special?

Gor Mahia lost only two games in the season, one being the opening match against Bandari and another in the second round of fixtures against Nzoia Sugar where they went down 1-0 at Mumias Sports Complex. The Green Army have scored 55 goals and conceded just 22.

The goal harvest mission was well distributed among three of their strikers. Nicholas Kipkirui who joined from Zoo FC has managed nine goals so far and is leading the pack.

Samuel Onyango who arrived from Ulinzi Stars has scored eight goals while Rwandan striker Jacques Tuyisenge has managed seven. Ugandan forward Erissa Ssekisambu has five.

Gor have only drawn seven matches.

Where was the title won?

Nicholas Kipkirui and Jacques Tuyisenge of Gor Mahia.

Despite taking part in the Caf Champions League and later on in the Confederation Cup, Gor Mahia managed to pick up 16 points from their three closest season rivals.

A double over Sofapaka and Sony Sugar helped the league champions in their quest for a third straight league trophy. Only Bandari managed to beat them but faltered in the reverse meeting.

In fact, the 2-0 win over Sofapaka on May 19 was the point that Gor Mahia all but confirmed their championship as they opened a 10-point gap between them and the then second-placed Sofapaka.

Gor Mahia also easily managed a double against rivals AFC Leopards, a 2-0 win in the first round and a 3-1 victory in the reverse fixture.

K’Ogalo coach Hassan Oktay later admitted to Goal that they had simply won the title because of beating the top teams in the league.

“This feels like a fair reward for a difficult job. I’m happy for what my team accomplished. We have dropped points against teams sitting lower in the table but for the big games, there was no competition. We prepared for the big games then they turn out to be a walk in the park.”

Consistency is key, but where to from here?

Gor mahia

Meanwhile, questions will be asked now as to what more Gor Mahia can still achieve in the game?

Defending a KPL title is no mean feat and this proves that they are unmatched in Kenya. Gor Mahia have also reaped the benefits of continental football which has allowed them to mix it with the best and learn valuable lessons.

Nonetheless, coach Oktay will need another strategy as he aims at performing better in the Caf Champions League. Last season, they failed to get past the preliminary stage and were dropped down to the lower competition – the Confederation Cup – where they reached the quarter-finals.

With top players – Jacques Tuyisenge, Harun Shakava and Francis Kahata – among those rumoured to be on their way out of the club, Oktay may need to dig deeper in order to refresh the squad even though there are players who might feel they have a chance to play regularly next season.

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“We will have to strengthen the squad by making additions and my main target also is to make sure that we retain some of our key players because it will be good in terms of continuity," Oktay told Goal in an interview.

“I also want the team to start doing well in the Caf competitions, we need to go as far as we can in the Caf Champions League, we have already shown that we are the best in Kenya but now we have to engage another top gear and show what we can do in Africa.”

For now, though, it’s celebration time, and when the dust settles, you can bet your last cent that Oktay and his technical team – who deserve a special mention for the team’s success – will be back at work, plotting and planning for the new season and taking aim at more trophies.