November, 14 2023.
Technical Adviser of Enugu Rangers, Fidelis Ilechukwu has expressed some disappointment with what is fast becoming a habit by his team to drop points, from winning positions, thus far in the 2023/24 Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) season.
After eight match-days in the NPFL, Rangers holds the record as the only club in the elite division, to have scored in each of their first eight games, of the season.
In keeping to that tradition, the Flying Antelopes scored twice, in their 2-all draw with Sunshine Stars, in Akure on Sunday; but despite taking the lead in the 4th minute through veteran forward, Godwin Obaje; they needed a last gasp equalizer from Jonas Emmanuel to avoid another defeat on their travels.
Speaking after the match, Ilechukwu told journalists that it was a fair result for both sides, but his team was lucky to have struck the late leveler, which gave them a share of the spoils, and took their tally to 14 points - 3 points adrift of the table toppers, Lobi Stars of Makurdi.
According to Ilechukwu who joined Rangers from Plateau United of Jos, the defense has been very slow in responding to his philosophy; unlike the attack and midfield.
According to him, "in a championship like the NPFL, the back-line and goalkeeper has got a lot to do, if a team like Rangers is to excel. Like in Ikenne-Remo, and Lafia, they could have done a bit more, to ensure that we returned home with at least a point; and here in Akure, it was the attack that saved the day again, after we conceded twice despite taking the lead".
The former MFM FC of Lagos and Heartland of Owerri gaffer said it all boils down to the ability of the entire team, especially the defense to effectively manage games, especially when the midfielders and attackers have done their bit, to put the team in front.
At the Akure Sports Complex, Coach Ilechukwu stuck with the squad that defeated Heartland FC of Owerri 2-0, on the last match-day; and the boys did not disappoint the traveling delegation as former league top-scorer, Obaje nodded the Coal City side into an early lead by connecting an Isaac Saviour well-taken free-kick that resulted from the fouling of Kenneth Igboke on 4 minutes.
The goal silenced the half-full Akure Township stadium but sprung the coach Edith Agoye’s wards into action as they pushed for an early leveler that failed to materialize as the backline of Rangers anchored by the duo of Ifeanyi Onyebuchi and David Chimezie held their own.
Kazeem Ogunleye almost increased the lead for Rangers on 11 minutes but his pile-driver from about 25 meters missed target by few inches, that was before Ibrahim Yusuf drew the home side level on 13 minutes after been left unmarked to blast an unstoppable shot past goalkeeper, Japhet Opubo, and fans of the ‘Owena Whales’ found their voices again.
Both sides retired for the first half on even note and on resumption of the second stanza, the home side pushed for the winning goal, and dominated play.
But it was until 81st minute of play that the resistance of Rangers was broken; and when Sunshine Stars were almost celebrating a 2-1 victory; Rangers came up with a fine equalizer, 2 minutes from time, when Isaac Saviour found Odoh Joel on the right, and he ran down with the ball to deliver an inch-perfect cross that was side-footed into the net by substitute, Jonas Emmanuel, who caught goalkeeper Mustafa Lawal napping.
Coach Ilechukwu admitted thereafter, that “it was a very difficult match against a quality side but as our slogan says, we never say die until the final whistle and I give my players kudos as we keep working on the areas of deficiency. My defense gave away cheap goals but we'll keep working until we get it right.”
Rangers will next play Katsina United on Sunday, November 19, 2023, at the Awka City stadium.