Allan Okello after scoring the winner for KCCA FC against SC Villa. The midfielder is expected to light up the second round of the league

Uganda’s top tier league hits the Jackpot when it comes to terminologies – a handful compliments yet most are criticisms; Boring, overrated, below par, average, buried, in limbo, the list is endless. For many of us who read beyond the lines, league action is our weekly therapy – the package that is the Uganda Premier League is worth a bite.

Express FC, one of the most supported clubs, first participated in the top-tier league in 1968. The fact that they are now fighting the drop is something I am eagerly following (Not that I wish it). After watching the nine-time league champions force a draw against Onduparaka at the Greenlight Stadium, I am certain the Red Eagles may fly above the redline.

Teenage goalkeeper Tony Kyamera on his league debut, played like he had been in the trenches of survival before, pulling off match winning saves against the Arua side. His audition, makes Charles Lukwago’s man of the match performance in KCCA FC’s 1-0 win over SC Villa light work.

[/media-credit] Every game matters for Express FC who are playing for their survival Credit: © Kawowo Sports | DAVID ISABIRYE

Shafik Bisaso has assembled a mean back-line, Ayub Kisalita and Omar Hitmana at the heart of his defense, Julius Ntambi on the right and Suleiman Jingo on the left. Their midfield of Steven Luswata, Davies Mayanja, Isaac Kisujju, Joseph Ssemujju and Michael Birungi can win football matches if they decide to.

Express have responded with back-to-back clean sheets in the league, a 2-0 win against BUL on Tuesday, a third straight victory match, after their 6-0 win over Kachumbala in the Uganda Cup. Needless to mention – it’s their first season under the bright lights of the top-tier.

Yes, and my prediction, Express have what it takes to survive the relegation monster like they did in 2009. They then, by the way, went ahead and won the Uganda Cup. Unfortunately the fairytale won’t be completed after their 4-3 defeat on spot kicks at the hands of Kitara FC in the Uganda Cup round of 32, normal time had ended one all.

SC Villa’s Abel Etrude (M) battling for possession alongside KCCA FC’s Isaac Kirabira in the sides’ last encounter at Lugogo

Away from the footnote, there is a lot more fascination at the apex where hungry SC Villa have a fight for their lives to Rugby handoff the chasing KCCA FC and resurrecting Vipers. A second bite at the cherry was handed to the latter two when Maroons picked a point off the sixteen time champions in Masaka. Holders KCCA FC added more salt to the Villa wounds with a 1-0 victory at on Thursday.

With that win, KCCA FC just narrowed the gap with  Villa to just a point, despite the former having a game in hand and tied on points with third placed Vipers. It is officially a three-horse race but bear in mind that fourth place Onduparaka are six points adrift KCCA FC and Vipers and they are tip toeing steadily.

Vipers seem to have put their house in order, especially with the playing staff. It’s unclear where the broom has come from; whether it’s the coach Miguel Da Costa or technical director Eddie Butindo. But whoever’s hymn book they are singing from, they better not change a thing, Erisa Sekisambu now starts games, and he looks lively and rejuvenated.

It is also as clear as daylight in Kitende that new signing Daniel Mzee Serunkuma is the leading marksman while others will have to wait for their moment. The former Express FC striker, grabbed a late winner against Soana at Kavumba and kept the Onduparaka defense on their toes in the 2-0 outing at Kitende.

[/media-credit] Striker Dan Mzee Sserunkuma (with ball) joined Vipers in the window to ensure they land a third league title Credit: © Kawowo Sports | JOHN BATANUDDE

The result also displayed another proof; Vipers will need midfielder cum striker Milton Karissa, and goalkeeper Ismael Watenga to anchor their trophy hopes. Karisa, besides his timely goals, growing maturity and character have settled well with carrying the weight of the team on his shoulders. Watenga provides the experience and organization in defence, to which I have previously spoken loudly. He is providing it in abundance now that the team needs it most.

SC Villa are just hungry, 2004 is a long time, especially for the 16 time League champions. Wasswa Bossa’s only silverware in the dugout was in the 2011/2012 season, then with Express, and an assistant to Sam Ssimbwa. Does he have what it takes to lead the Joogo’s to league glory? I believe he does especially with his assistants Paul Mukatabala and Philip Sozzi. Those are gentlemen who know what it takes to get results and probably perform under pressure.

It also looks like this is the first time in a long time that Villa has had one tactician for such a length under Ben Misagga and that has provided the stability and consistency in the team. Under Bossa and Mukatabala, Villa have kept it tight at the back, it’s hard to tell that their weakest department is goalkeeping. Simply because Muwanga, Bob Kasozi, John Adriko and Joseph Nsubuga have been that solid. No wonder they have conceded the least goals (seven) after 17 outings.

[/media-credit] KCCA FC’s striker Shaban Mohammad in a physical brawl with an SC Villa defender, scenes like these will be many in the second round if the league. Credit: © Kawowo Sports | JOHN BATANUDDE

And that midfield marshalled by a rookie in Nicholas Kasozi has kept the Villa back line  out of unnecessary pressure. With all those boxes ticked, it makes up for a light pinch for their in front of goal issues. Having goals coming from all fronts eases that stress. Will Bernard Muwanga’s troops live up to the expectations of their hungry and at times angry fans? We just have to watch the space.

There is probably more pressure on KCCA FC than any of Vipers or Villa in my opinion, especially after their fairy-tale run last season that saw them win a domestic treble and make the group stages of the CAF Confederation Cup. But also interestingly, KCCA FC have never completed a three-peat in Ugandan football, though a maiden league and Uganda Cup double last season can be backing enough that all is possible.

What KCCA FC have that SC Villa and Vipers don’t is squad depth, but how to squeeze the juice from their talented squad will now come to scrutiny. Juggling the domestic season and the continent is a taste they have passed. Mike Mutebi wants us to believe they can do it again. Let’s brace for that challenge on his hands.

Senior staff writer at Kawowo Sports mainly covering volleyball, football and badminton

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