Rangers dare Sunshine in Ijebu-Ode
Following yesterday’s round of matches in the Premier League,
action resumes today with five matches on the cards, top of which is the visit
of Enugu Rangers to the Gateway international Stadium, Ijebu-Ode where they
will be taking on Sunshine Stars.
This fixture should have taken place in Akure but owing to the
failure of Sunshine Stars to develop their home ground in the Ondo state capital
to the minimum standard required by the Nigeria Premier League (NPL), the
league body had no option but to order them to relocate to a different venue.
If league watchers feel Sunshine would as a result of being far
away from their traditional home ground fall home-sick, they stand to be proved
wrong because in their very first game in Ijebu-Ode, Sunshine defeated
defending champions Enyimba 2-1.
And if anyone thought their win over the People’s Elephants was
a total flash in the pan, the side handled by Gbenga Ogunbote only last weekend
went to the Rwang Pam Stadium in Jos to pip Plateau United 1-0, courtesy of
Ukeyima Akombo’s second half stoppage time winner, to completely turn around
their fortunes in a matter of two weeks after the 2-1 loss inflicted on them at
the start of the season by Shooting Stars.
They now have a chance to further climb up the table as they
confront Rangers today in their adopted home ground.
“I have totally forgotten about that game,” said Ogunbote,
recalling the loss to Shooting Stars that is more remembered for the unfriendly
gestures made towards him by the Ibadan side’s Gbolahan Salami. “One can’t
continue to live in the past. That was one match we should have come out with
at least a point but I’m glad with the way the boys reacted against Enyimba and
Plateau United. They were all tough matches and we now have another one against
Rangers who have also been doing very well,” added Ogunbote.
Lethal attack, leaky
Rangers, heading into this weekend’s round of matches, had
scored more goals than any other side in the league (eight goals) and boasts of
two of the leading stars of the young season, Fred Okwara and Ejike Uzoenyi who
between them have grabbed five of the Enugu side’s eight goals to date.
Although the side managed by Alphonsus Dike have suffered a loss
in the only away game they have played this season – 1-0 loss to Dolphins –
they have been ruthless at their Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium home ground where only
last weekend, they recorded the highest scoring game of the young season in a
5-2 drubbing of Ocean Boys.
“We have been scoring goals, which is good, but we have also
been conceding a lot and we have been working to change that,” Rangers’ coach
Alphonsus Dike told NEXT. “The boys are confident of scoring against any team
but we have to find a way of maintaining defensive discipline so that we don’t
let in easy goals.” One player who has performed creditably well for Sunshine
Stars this season has been Cletus Itodo, who can be found sitting in front of
the backline in the holding midfield role. But he looks set to have his hands
full against a Rangers side filled to the brim with explosive players like John
Nnam, Uche Nwafor and Charles Taylor, not forgetting the quick footed duo of
Okwara and Uzoenyi.
“That is something we have tried to capitalize on this season,”
continued Dike regarding the speed of his forward line. “Football is becoming
fast-paced these days and having players who can think well ahead when they are
without the ball has its advantages.” He then added: “Hopefully those
advantages will work for us on Sunday.”
Cooreman comes to Owerri
One team that will also be eager to make its own advantage count
today will be Heartland who will want to make best use of the chance of playing
at the Dan Anyiam Stadium when they take on visiting Kaduna United.
Heartland have not had the best of starts to this season’s
campaign and only last weekend threw away a two-goal lead against Warri Wolves.
But they face a Kaduna side that is yet to taste defeat this season and who
have a coach, Maurice Cooreman, that just wants to keep it that way.
“Heartland is one of the strongest football teams we have in
this country. We are training hard in making sure that we not only play well
when we visit them this weekend,
but we want to come back home with the maximum points,” Cooreman
67-year-old Cooreman, who has won league titles in the past with
Ocean Boys and Enyimba will however have to be wary of Heartland’s Bello
Kofarmata and Osas Okoro, who have the abilities to wreck havoc on any side
when on song.
In other matches today, Zamfara United will be at home to
Plateau United, Lobi Stars will host Niger Tornadoes, and bottom of the table
Ocean Boys will welcome Sharks to Yenegoa.