Just two points separate Uganda Premier League leaders URA FC from third-placed Express FC with six games to play and results from match-day 23 suggest we may be in for one hell of a title race.
URA beat Police FC 3-1, second-placed Vipers defeated SC Villa by the same score line while Express just about took care of UPDF 1-0.
As it stands, the Tax Collectors top the UPL table with 54 points, Vipers are on 53 while Express have 52.
With the title race being the most exciting in years, the main question raised by almost everyone is: who will become champions in June?
I have looked at four aspects that i think will determine who wins it at the end.
All three coaches involved in what may turn out to be the tightest title race in UPL history have won it before, at least they will all claim.
Sam Simbwa led a unfancied Express FC to the crown in 2012 as they dethroned his current side URA FC.
Like it is the case now, even in 2012, it was a three-horse race that also involved the same sides that are hoping to win it this year save for the small detail that Vipers were still called Bunamwaya FC.
On the final day, Simbwa’s Express defeated BUL FC 2-1 at Namboole while Bunamwaya (Vipers) edged URA 1-0 to finish second.
Against all odds, Simbwa had brought back the league crown to Wankulukuku for the first time since Serbian Dragan Popadic had led Express to glory 1996.
Wasswa Bbosa who is at the helm at Express was Sam Simbwa’s assistant in 2012 and for that fact, he too will say he has won it before.
His contribution to the side is one that will never be downplayed as many who were closely following what transpired at Wankulukuku, at the time, will tell u that he literally recruited the team that won that title.
Vipers Fred Kajoba has also won it before, guiding Vipers to last season’s crown even if he was in charge for just seven of the 25 games the Venoms played that season.
Kajoba came in to replace Edward Golola and his role was to ensure he maintained a four-point lead that the latter had established by the time of his departure in January 2020.
By the time the league was halted, after 25 games due to the Coronavirus outbreak, Vipers were still leading by four points and indeed Kajoba had done what was required of him, hence winning the only league crown he boosts of as a coach.
Unlike the other two, only Sam Simbwa can stake a genuine claim to have won the UPL in the past giving him an advantage as we enter the last six games of the campaign.
Express, Vipers Juggling Commitments
Express and Vipers are still in the Uganda Cup and have already learnt their quarter final opponents, which is not the case for URA.
Express will face KCCA FC while Vipers take on SC Villa in the last 8 of the competition, one from which the Tax Collectors were eliminated by the Red Eagles at the round of 16.
With the games coming thick and fast and injuries to key players likely to set-in, both Express and Vipers have two more games to play (as the Cup is played on home and away basis) while URA rests.
The two matches may have been, just two other games in the past. However the tight schedule that is at the moment, could prove vital in the race as players who look over-worked already, seek for precious recovery time to shake of fatigue.
One may argue that all three sides have reasonable depth in their squads but a look at the teams that have been used by all three in the cup, they are the same teams they use in the league and that will not be expected to change as both Express and Vipers take on two of the other biggest sides in Ugandan football in the quarter finals.
With that said, URA have to play two less games than their opponents, an added advantage in a race that is likely to go down to the wire.
The Away Record
All three have been close to formidable at home, up to this point.
Both URA and Vipers have won 29 points at home while Express has taken just one less (28) at Wankulukuku.
The three have lost a combined two home games all season and the Red Eagles are yet to lose at their own patch. Coincidentally, the two home defeats for the Venoms and the Tax Collectors have all come at the hand of Express (both 1-0).
It is easy to suggest that all three can take care of their remaining home games as evident from what has transpired since the season started so the away record may come in handy in the end.
How have they been performing on the road?
URA edges the away record by a single point having won seven, drawn four and lost once (again to Express) all season.
Express and Vipers on the other hand have won seven, drawn three and lost twice apiece in their 11 travels to date.
The one point with which URA leads the away standings, may look small on the eye but do not forget that it is also a single point that separates them with Vipers at the moment.
Final six games
URA’s last six games will see them face Kyetume FC, UPDF FC, Busoga United, Wakiso Giants FC, Kitara FC and MYDA FC.
UPDF, Kitara and MYDA are the three teams that will head to Ndejje while the rest are away games for the Tax Collectors.
The fixture suggests that URA faces five sides in the bottom half in their last six games.
Only UPDF, one of their three remaining home games, sits in the top half as they currently occupy 7th spot.
A look at those games would push someone to think that the Army side would be their toughest test.
However, fact that UPDF has not won any of their last four matches suggests that not even them will offer much resistance to a side that is eyeing a first crown in 10 years.
Express’s last six games read Busoga (A), Kitara (H), Wakiso Giants (A) , MYDA (H), BUL (H) and KCCA (A).
Like URA, they too face five sides in the bottom half.
However, their final game will be away to 13-time winners and rivals KCCA FC which indicates they have a tougher schedule compared to that of the Tax Collectors.
Victory in five games will see Express march to Lugogo requiring victory to either pile pressure on URA and Vipers (in case all have won their next five games) but while URA will be at home to MYDA, the Red Eagles will have to negotiate past their eternal rivals for the final and may-be title clinching victory.
For Vipers, they have to take on Mbarara City (H), Bright Stars FC (A), Onduparaka FC (H), BUL FC (A), Police FC (A) and Kitara (H).
By just a glance at the fixture, Vipers have the tougher run as compared to their opponents.
Unlike Express and URA, Vipers still have two play two sides in the top half of the table (Bright Stars and Police).
Trips to Kavumba and Lugogo are not ones that a side chasing a title would fancy and with Bright Stars currently causing everyone all sorts of problems, Vipers will need to be at their very best to walk away with all three points come match-day 25.
Putting everything into consideration, my best bet is URA winning the title.