By Shafic Kiyaga
Uganda Premier League
Express vs Vipers (Featured match)
Maroons vs Onduparaka
Paidha vs Mbarara City
Police vs Tooro United
BetWay-sponsored Express FC return to Uganda Premier League action on Wednesday with a crunch tie against unbeaten Vipers Sports Club. Three points separate the two teams with Vipers in fourth and Express in fifth. A win for Vipers could see the defending champion assume table leadership.
The game at Mutesa II Stadium, Wankulukuku will also see six-time champions Express don their new jerseys after clinching a Shs400m deal with the online betting firm.
The Red Eagles were able to survive relegation by a whisker last season and the club seemed destined for deeper problems. But the crowning of Kiryowa Kiwanuka as chairman and his trust in boss Kefa Kisaala’s method have helped the 2012 league champions turn their fortunes around.
A four game run without defeat, coupled with Vipers’ slump in form has built enthusiasm amongst the red army ahead of the trip to Wankulukuku.
Kisaala’s boys seemed to be out of sorts when they lost 3-1 away to Mbarara City but they reacted with a statement of intent beating Police FC 3-1 at Lugogo and then winning two of their next three fixtures.
Express’ record against Vipers has been so poor in recent years. The last time the two clubs met, Express was hammered 5-0 at Kitende. A good performance this time will further settle claims that their recent run of results was just a-bit of luck rather than pure show of quality.
It is important not to get carried away at this stage of the season, though, and considering the issues Kisaala has had to deal with, eleven points from six games is by no means a bad return – indeed.
Wankulukuku is also a fortress of sorts for Express recently. They have won five, drawn four and lost just once at home in their previous ten league outings a contrast to five losses, three draws and two wins in the ten games before that.
Vipers may have won the leagues last season and two of the past five league titles during their illustrious history but the class of 2018-19 has the chance to go into history books as the only team to go the entire calendar year without losing a league game if they can hold on till the end of the year. And doing so would be their biggest statement yet that they are ready to add more silver ware and rule Ugandan football.
Javier Martinez’ boys are already enjoying their best-ever start to a Premier League campaign courtesy of four wins and two draws from six games.
Express will be without talisman Michael Birungi who was brought off after suffering a nose injury, while Hamis Batega is a doubt after suffering a knock during training.
Kisaala has made just one change to his starting lineup so far this season bringing in Eric Kambaale for Brian Nsubuga, while more changes will be expected throughout the season, he is unlikely to tinker too much with the winning formula just yet.
Questions were raised over Tom Masiko’s fitness, but Martinez said that the former KCCA midfielder is back and his late introduction in their last game was aimed at giving him confidence. But Captain Taddeo Lwanga is still out completing his suspension for a red card.
Yayo Lutimba has played at left back recently, but the return of Agrey Madoi could see him drop to the bench. Abraham Nduggwa is likely to start upfront with Dan Sserunkuuma and Duncan Sseninde while Rahmat Senfuka could replace Geoffrey Wasswa who played in midfield alongside Waisswa Moses.
This fixture is known for being cagey and determined by edges. Vipers’ 5-0 win last season is their biggest win against Express. This encounter has been decided by one goal margins on three occasions in the last five games.
This should be an open and entertaining match, and even predicting four goals seems a little reserved. Vipers have not been at their best despite their unbeaten start to the season and it remains to be seen how they will fare against top-six opposition, so this could be where their unbeaten start comes to an end.