Thursday Jan 26, 2017. 14:28
Coach Stanley Eguma is again spearheading Rivers United charge for glory this season after he led his hurriedly assembled team to finish runners-up in the last NPFL campaign.
United are currently in second place on the NPFL standings, two points adrift of the leaders, Plateau United after the opening four games.
One of the most respected and experienced coaches in the NPFL, Eguma has previously trained players at clubs like Enyimba, Gabros (now FC Ifeanyiubah), Heartland, Sharks and Dolphins before he was appointed the first-ever head of the technical crew of Rivers United FC.
In his first season at United, he led the club to a second-placed finish after many bookmakers had tipped the club to be relegated.
This season, the trainer seems intent on going one better as he has now masterminded the longest unbeaten run in the history of the football club (six matches).
United is currently in second place on the NPFL standings after four matches.
It is still very early days in the 2016/17 season but recent experience in the NPFL has shown that a good start to a season is usually a pointer as regards what a side could achieve at the tail end of that season.
United started extremely well last season (they were champions at the half way mark) and ended up losing the title to Enugu Rangers on the final day.
Introducing steel and self-belief
Last season, United held the unenviable record of losing the most number of matches (14) of all sides that eventually finished in the top six on the log.
This was basically down to the club’s woeful form on the road where most points were dropped.
United have played two away games this season and have remained undefeated after both.
Club captain, Festus Austin puts the turnaround in fortunes down to the influence of Eguma.
“He (Eguma) has instilled us with the belief that we can win matches even away from home,”he said.
“In the two games we have played away this season, we created chances and could have won.
“We didn’t lose those games (against Akwa United and FCIU) whereas last season, we lost those sort of games.
“When we see him (prowling) on the side-lines during matches, shouting instructions to us, we just know we have to lift our game.
“He is a coach that has seen it all and a man who has done it all.”
Flexibility and unpredictability
Eguma was criticized in some quarters for failing to rotate his squad last season.
The gaffer stood his ground, explaining that, ‘I will not just rotate my squad for the fun of it’.
He eventually stuffed tons of humble pie down the throats of critics by leading United to a runners-up place last season.
On Wednesday, Eguma showed he could be equally as flexible when the need arises as he made wholesale changes to his squad which ultimately delivered a point against an extremely-powerful FC Ifeanyiubah side in Nnewi.
Eguma was the first to admit that his side did not play well three days earlier in their previous NPFL game – a 1-0 win over Niger Tornadoes in Port Harcourt.
Like all intelligent tacticians, Eguma pointed out the reason for his side’s underwhelming display.
“We won but we did not play well and for that reason, I am not happy,” he admitted.
“I have very good players but some of them were tired. I know what to do before we play our next game against FCIU on Wednesday.”
Eguma’s decision raised many eyebrows but in the end, it proved to be a masterstroke.
He dropped Ayobami Asekunowo, Ifeanyi Nweke, Guy Kuemian, Nzube Anaezemba (man of the match against Tornadoes) and Sunday Rotimi from the side who faced FCIU on Wednesday.
The effect was a refreshed side that almost performed a smash and grab at ‘the Fortress’ (Nnewi).
His tactics were equally spot on as FCIU laboured in vain to break down a resolute and well-drilled side that looked equally menacing on the break.
Staying focused and keeping eyes on the prize
Eguma says his side’s good start to the season must not lull the supporters and fans into a false sense of security.
The gaffer insists that ‘nothing has been achieved’ and that his charges and everyone involved with the football club must continue working hard to achieve set objectives at the end of the season.
“It is important to start the season well and get points on the road as it helps to build confidence in the team.
“Nothing has been achieved because we still have 34 more league matches to play so technically, we can still be relegated if we don’t up our game.
“There is still plenty of work to do. This team is still about sixty percent ready. There are a lot of new players who has still not blended into a unit.
“We are working relentlessly to achieve that.
“I also want to stress that despite our good start, we have not achieved anything in terms of our overall objective for the season.
“This league is a marathon and not a sprint and if we are to achieve success, then we must stay humble, never underrate any opponent and continue in this direction until the end of the season,” he said.