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By VINCENT OPIYO
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Western Stima over the weekend made a return to the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) after a year in the National Super League (NSL) with a vital 1-0 win over “junior brothers” Coast Stima in Kisumu.

Victory took Stima’s points tally to 76, seven ahead of second-placed Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) with two matches to spare.

Only KCB can reach the 76-point mark if they win all their remaining three games in the event Stima drop points in their remaining two fixtures against Talanta and Nairobi Stima. It was a road of ups and downs for the Kisumu-based side after being demoted from the top league last year for the first time since 2008.

“In the first case we were relegated for failing to score just a single goal in our last match against Chemelil Sugar which we won 1-0. We believed henceforth that we didn’t deserve to be in the NSL,” recounts club chairman Laban Jobita whose charges announced their intent to return to the top tier with a 2-0 win over Modern Coast Rangers in the opening game of 2018 NSL on February 11 at Moi Stadium, Kisumu.

“I’ve never witnessed such a difficult year, the league is very tough with no team giving room to play football. It’s so physical with questionable officiating,” added Jobita.

The relegation setback left Stima, founded in 2006, in a difficult situation as key players deserted in search of top flight football.

Goalkeeper Gad Matthews (Kariobangi Sharks), Bernard Ondiek (Gor Mahia), Robert Achema (Tusker), Ugandan Villa Oromchan, Brian Marita and Ezekiel Otuoma (AFC Leopards) are some of the key players in the team who could not find themselves playing in the NSL.

Despite the exodus, the Kenya Power and Lightening Company (KPLC)-sponsored side assembled a new outfit, a formidable one that has so far amassed 23 wins, seven draws and four losses in 34 games.

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“We don’t cling on players heading for greener pastures and their exit opened doors for others who’ve fought tirelessly to achieve our objective simply because we didn’t reduce our salary and bonuses budget,” offered Jobita. He said that the technical bench, led by 35-year-old Paul Ogai, will be retained alongside a couple of players who shone in the season.

The KNVB-trained Ogai has Dan Omondi and veteran Henry Omino as assistant coach and technical director respectively.

For Ogai, formerly at Palos, Agrochemicals and Kisumu AllStars, leading a club to the Premier League remains his greatest achievement.

“My secret was ensuring we win any match the team lost in the first leg. It came to pass save for the 1-0 loss away to Bidco United owing to a terrible playing surface in Thika,” noted Ogai, who replaced Ugandan coach Richard Makumbi in July and went on to record 12 wins in 13 matches.

Team captain Maurice Ojwang wants the NSL championship as he looks forward to next season.

“I would request the management to hold onto these squad and add a few experienced names for a good season in the top flight. We’ve been in a tougher league and we look forward to where we “rightfully” belong,” said the Harambee Stars trialist defender.

Stima play rivals Nairobi Stima on Wednesday. They have already guaranteed their place in top flight next season but rest assure they will be going out for yet another win that will give them an unassailable lead on 79 points with a game to play and the title of 2018 FKF National Super League champions.



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