Low goals return hurting Rivers United

By Fisayo Dairo

Rivers United rose from the ashes of defunct Sharks FC and Dolphins both of Port Harcourt about 18 months ago but the richly financed team seem to have been born with a goal scoring crisis.

The team have managed a return of just twelve (12) goals in 19 games and currently sit 13th on the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) log with 24 points, just a point clear of others in the relegation zone.

If football is indeed a game of goals, then the key reason behind the struggles of the team since the start of the current football season may not be far-fetched.

Many have suggested that Rivers United's fixture congestion due to their participation in CAF Competitions is a reason for the team's continuous flirting with the dreaded zone. As much as this seem plausible, but in plain footballing logic, a team that fails to score will not win a match, and a team that fails to win a match will not get the maximum points. Basic?

Statistically, in spite of their lofty second position at the end of last season after an unlikely late surge for the title, Rivers United won ten of their games with the 1-0 score line, nine of them on home soil.

It was apparent that the goal scoring aspect of the team has to improve ahead of what promised to be, and has been a hectic season but the problems seem to have continued unabated. Rivers United's return of 12 goals in the league so far is the least of any team in the top division, a worrying stat for the team's followers.

With the exit of two of the team's attackers last year - Wilson Andoh and Chinonso Okonkwo – Rivers United coach Stanley Eguma brought in the likes of Lukman Mohammed and Bolaji Sakin as well as free scoring midfielders Nzube Anaezemba and Esosa Igbinoba who were top scorers at their former clubs, Enyimba and Nasarawa United respectively last season.

The transfer dealings have since failed to ameliorate the team's goals return ratio which stands as the worst in the division midway through the 2016/17 season.

It is noteworthy that by the end of the first stanza of the league, Rivers United have already secured five 1-0 victories and more instructively have been involved in four goalless stalemates - two at home and two away from home.

While a school of thought would applaud the team's defence and deservedly so for having nine clean sheets so far, the team's failing in front of goal is what has bothered majority of the team's fans that watch them play at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium.

Rivers United boss Stanley Eguma hinted after his team's usual 1-0 victory over Remo Stars in a rescheduled fixture that he would look to add new players to bolster his squad during the midseason break.

"We know we are not perfect and we know we are not where we aspire to be. We will keep working hard and yes, we will bring in some new players to fortify the team in the areas we are found wanting," the former Iwuanyawu Nationale coach said.

One of the new attackers the team will be looking up to in the second stanza is former Warri Wolves star, John Odumegwu who joins the team from table toppers Plateau United. Odumegwu started Rivers' three games in the Rivers State FA Cup as Eguma looks to him for his scoring salvation.

"Some of them (the new players on expedition) are still new to the team and so you expect them to just be studying the terrain but I give them pass mark. It wasn't a failure though we still missed some scoring chances," Eguma said after one of his team's games in the Rivers State FA Cup last week.

Some of Rivers United's star acts last season, Bernard Ovoke and Guy Keumian have not replicated their forms on the domestic front this term although both are two out of five players on two league goals apiece this season. While it can be argued that they have scored ten goals in three home games on the continent this term, their return of zero number of goals on their travels negate it and raise much more questions.

With a seemingly blunt attack line replenished by an unconvincing goal scorer in Odumegwu who scored twice in the whole of last season for lowly Warri Wolves, it remains to be seen where the goals will come from in the second stanza during which the team's schedule is not expected to ease due to continental engagements.

Some pundits perhaps feel Eguma could do with looking more inwards and give either Bolaji Sakin or Lukman Mohammed more central roles in the team. Both attackers have been predominantly deployed on the flanks by Eguma this season in what many feel has hindered their contributions to Nigeria's sole survivor in CAF Competitions.

Sakin, an energetic battler who is blessed with pace and strength is capable of acting as a foil for Godbless Asamoah or Guy Keumian especially, a role Ebube Okpokwu played for Emem Eduok in 2014 at the defunct Dolphins, still under Stanley Eguma.

For Mohammed, he caught the eyes of Rivers United's scouts playing as a centre forward at Niger Tornadoes last term and although he doesn't have the numbers - just four goals during the course of the season -, his directness opened up scoring situations for his teammates to exploit.

The team will start a crucial part of its season in the middle of May when the group stage of the CAF Confederation Cup and later the second half of the league season will commence. Add to that the National Federation Cup and you only appreciate how exigent it is for the team to cure their goal scoring ailment.

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