Livingstone Mbabazi’s reign at Arua Hill got off to a perfect start as the newly promoted side shocked champions Express FC with a 2-0 victory courtesy of Musa Eseru and Rashid Kawawa’s second half strike.
The preamble to the pulsating opening game of the 2021/22 season was dominated by what kind of challenge were the Leopards bringing to the top flight after gaining promotion unbeaten and pulling off big transfers in the transfer window.
And it was former Express hero Alfred Leku who stepped up to the mark, setting up Eseru who did well to beat Isa Lumu and finish with a crisp low finish below Joel Mutakubwa – one of the three league debutants for the club after 51 minutes.
Kawawa later put the game to bed with a tap in at the far post from second alf substitute Sam Ssekamatte’s low cross after some incredible work from Leku down the left.
Express threatened on a couple of occasions with Eric Kambale failing to find clean connection with a number of crosses, but Arua Hill held on to secure three points that represent a major statement of their arrival in the top flight.
The hosts got out of the blocks quicker, Martin Kizza darting beyond left back Matovu Richard drawing a clumsy foul outside the area with his effort sailing over the target inside three minutes.
Express continued to pour forward and Joseph Akandwanaho’s cross was fumbled by goalkeeper Richard Anyama before his defence helped clear for a corner. From the resulting corner, Kambale’s header bounced off David Ndihabwe to draw a fine stop from Anyama.
Arua Hill got a hold of the game, and starting to threaten going forward. Leku attempted a bicycle kick before Eseru’s glancing header from captain Gadaffi Wahab’s free kick had Mutakubwa in a worry but the goalkeeper reacted well to latch onto the ball after he fumbled his initial save.
The first half ended with both teams failing to find any clear-cut chances, and with the champions chasing a winning start to the season, the onus was on them to chase the result.
That played into the Leopards’ approach as they sat even deeper, encouraging the Red Eagles to attack more leaving spaces in behind that they would exploit on the counter attack.
Wasswa Bbosa’s men failed to break down their visitors’ defensive shape, and their best moments came from set pieces. A pedestrian clearance from Faizul Ibrahim was snapped up by Murushid Juuko, but the defender dragged his shot wide.
Bbosa grimaced when another opportunity went begging after Kambale and George Ssenkaaba failed to connect with Walusimbi’s cross at the far post.
The first indication of Arua’s threat on the counter came six minutes into the second half, with Leku beating Juuko to a long ball. The striker did well to wriggle past Juuko but his low shot at the near post was well saved by Mutakubwa.
Leku predated over the space on the counter, beating the Express defenders for pace and setting up Eseru who did well to beat Lumu and shoot for goal. That would be the final involvement from Eseru as he was withdrawn with a back problem.
Leku continued to utilise the space left by Express and had a snap shot from an angle well tamed by Mutakubwa before he was once again at the centre of things setting up Ssekamatte after beating Joseph Akandwanaho on the wing.
Ssekamatte crossed for Kawawa who made no mistake tapping in at the far post.
Arua Hill are at home against cross city rivals Onduparaka FC at the Barifa Stadium on Tuesday, October 26 while Express visit UPDF FC at the Bombo Barracks Grounds on Saturday, October 23.