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Title run-in too close to call

SC Villa’s Umar Lutalo sandwiched  by Vipers SC defenders during a league game on April 9 at Wankulukuku. Both teams are still in the race to win the league title

SC Villa’s Umar Lutalo sandwiched by Vipers SC defenders during a league game on April 9 at Wankulukuku. Both teams are still in the race to win the league title

Kitara FC and Vipers SC will be meeting for the second time in six days, when they clash in the StarTimes Uganda Premier League (SUPL) on Friday, April 19 at the Masindi Municipal stadium.

On Sunday, April 14, they faced-off in the quarter-finals of the Stanbic Uganda Cup at the same ground, and in what was an epic encounter, which ended 2-2 after extra-time; Kitara emerged 5-4 winners in the penalty shoot-out.

Such was how close this game was. In fact, for many observers, their forthcoming fixture is not expected to be any different. It is a pointer to how tight the run-in to the 2023/24 SUPL title is shaping up for Kitara (44 points), Bul FC (43 points), Vipers (42 points), and SC Villa (41 points), the quartet from which the likely winner is expected to emerge.

PERMUTATIONS

Villa and Vipers both have seven games remaining this season, while Kitara and Bul are left with six. By implication, if Vipers win their game in hand on Kitara, they go top by at least one point. Yet, if Kitara win their meeting this week, they can stretch their lead to five points, which means that even if Vipers were to win their game in hand, they would remain two points behind Kitara.

That is where Villa comes into the conversation. If the record 16-time champions, who are seeking their first league title since 2004, were to win their game in hand on Kitara, they would go level on points atop the standings. But they still would not easily dislodge Kitara because of an inferior goal-difference.

GOAL-SCORING

Not many teams will probably boast of having as high a propensity of creating goal-scoring chances as Villa have done this season. Yet, they are not clinical enough. They have managed 29 goals in 22 games, an average of 1.3 goals per game. The same applies to Bul although the Jinja side has played 23 games.

Compare that to Kitara and Vipers on 1.6 goals per game, and it is clear that Villa and Bul are a bit at a disadvantage. Despite Bul and Villa boasting of the best defences, having conceded 16 and 15 goals respectively, it is goals that win games.

KEY PLAYERS

It is against that fact that the forward lines of the these teams are brought into perspective. Vipers’ strikers, Milton Karisa, Yunus Sentamu and Eric Kambale have all won the league before, a fact that many believe gives them the temperament to handle this pressure moment, even though between them, they have only managed 11 goals this season.

However, when you add the support cast of Allan Okello, Bright Anukani, and Fumador Asiwome, Vipers have real goal threats, which makes up for the team’s lack of presence on the top-scorers chats. Among the 20 top-scorers in the league, Kitara has four, Denis Omedi (11 goals), Jude Ssemugabi (6 goals), Living Kabon, and Paul Mucureezi, both on five goals.

Essentially, this means that their sample size of goal-scorers is quite wide, which at this time of the season is handy because of the options available to them, to find a winner. In turn, 17 of Villa’s 29 goals have been scored by Umar Lutalo, and Jonah Kakande, both on six goals and Charles Lwanga on five.

Lutalo and Kakande have particularly been bright this season, although their inexperience at crunch time may be a key factor as far as Villa are concerned. The pressure for Villa to win is quietly immense. And beyond them, Villa does not necessarily have options that can be relied on to win games for them.

THE FIXTURES

So, even staying fit is of the essence to that duo. Bul find themselves in the same scenario as far as their talisman, Alex Kitatta is concerned. In the second round, they have only managed two wins in eight games. This largely coincided with the fact that Kitatta missed five of these games.

After Kitatta’s 10 goals, which is 34 per cent of Bul’s goals, defender Nicholas Mwere comes in at a distance, as does another forward, Lawrence Tezikya, both on three goals. Bul have only scored in three second-round games, and that does not seem like championship form.

The run-in, particularly looking at the opponents each team still has to play, tells a lot about where the title could end up. On paper, Kitara has the easier run-in. After Vipers this week, they have Express (A), Mbarara City (H), Busoga United (H), Bright Stars (A), and Gaddafi (H). These are teams in the bottom half, with most visiting Kitara.

Bul’s path looks smooth with a struggling Express (H), NEC (A), and Busoga United (A). Maybe Vipers (H) will be tough, as will Mbarara City (A). Not many teams win at Kakyeka stadium. But Gaddafi (H) should be winnable.

Notably, Vipers has Kitara (A), Maroons (H), Express (H), Bul (A), Busoga United (A), NEC (A), and Mbarara City (H) to contend with, while Villa have Bright Stars (H), Gaddafi (A), Wakiso Giants (H), KCCA FC (A), URA FC (H), UPDF FC (A), and NEC FC (A) to deal with, in what looks a tough draw.

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