- Published on Thursday, 10 August 2017 10:51
- Hits: 1052
By Ayo Olu Ibidapo
It has been tough going for title holders of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), Enugu Rangers as they began their title defence with a defeat at home on opening day plus 11 other defeats as well as points dropped at home.
Rangers defender Etim Matthew seems to have figured it all out and will not accept that it has to do with quality of players or the whispered internal wrangling. He puts it all down to stronger challenge mounted by other NPFL teams that may have resolved not to allow the Flying Antelopes repeat the run that saw them end a 32-year wait for the title.
“The season has been tougher for us as reigning champions because teams have taken us more seriously after we ended a 32-year wait and lifted the trophy last season,” Matthew told npfl.ng.
The defender has been in and out injured for better part of the season and would perhaps still be having nightmares from the loop over his head executed by Sikiru Olatunbosun to score the now famous global wonder goal in MFM’s 2-1 defeat of Rangers in Agege.
Looking at the indifferent form posted by Rangers that has seen them bumbling around the lower part of the log, Matthew posited that it has been so because other teams stepped up their performances on matchdays whenever they are scheduled to play the Flying Antelopes. He did not say if that meant that Rangers all through the concluded matchdays did not realize they also needed to raise their game but the players who started out at Akwa United agreed that it has been tough going.
“It’s been a tough season for Rangers. We didn’t expect it this way. We have not been overwhelmed though, but you know as defending champions we expected a battle if we were to retain the league title which we have faced at different times this season.
“It’s been a bad season really. Teams worked very hard whenever they face us, they always tried to make life difficult for us. I can understand it because we are the defending champions,” he said.
Rangers are the only side yet to be relegated in the top flight of Nigerian football, and Matthew believes that record will remain as they do not intend to let it happen during their time as players of the club.
“I think we will escape relegation, despite all our challenges. I am sure we will win the remaining home games. We have never been relegated and it won’t happen in our time,” he added.
With five games to go, the reigning champions who have recently changed coaches with former captain of the club, Sylvanus Okpala, taking charge, will face Sunshine Stars, Katsina United in back-to-back home games before going away to Remo Stars, and will then take on continental chasing Enyimba at home before finally battling title-chasing Plateau United in the season’s finale at the Rwang Pam Stadium in Jos.
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