At the last blast of the final whistle on Monday at the Yakubu Gowon stadium, players in blue shirts stood in the centre circle struggling to come to terms with the reality of their club staring down the barrel of relegation. Katsina United had just snatched a point right at the death. Dejected, members of the Pride of Rivers’ technical crew walked past waiting Journalists and booing supporters hoping the ground would open up and swallow them, no one from the hosts technical bench appeared for the usual post-match interviews.
Rivers United’s 1-1 draw versus Katsina United ensured the team had won just one match in seven league games and have quietly slid from 13th position on matchday 30 to 18th after matchday 33. But with five matches remaining aganst tricky oppositions before the end of the season, can they really survive being relegated? Here’s how they can
1. Don’t lose in Sagamu
Everything from now on depends on permutations and ‘if’s’, but in theory they can actually save their bacon.
Only one point separates Wikki Tourists in thirteenth from Rivers United in eighteenth, possibly a win this weekend in Sagamu against Remo Stars may just be the tonic needed.
As crazy as that may sound for a side yet to win away from home all season, lose this and they may just kiss their league status goodbye. Having said that, Remo Stars themselves won’t be push overs but what more motivation do a team need than a win against the league’s bottom side? It won’t be easy though, but it is possible.
2. Defeat Remo Stars and hope
NPFL matchday 34 throws up interesting battles involving teams at the bottom half of the table which makes Rivers United’s tie in Sagamu all the more important.
Besides Rivers United being guests of Remo Stars; Abia Warriors (12th) hosts Shooting Stars (14th), Katsina United (16th) are up against Wikki Tourists (13th) while Rangers (15th) welcomes Sunshine Stars (11th) to the Nnamdi Azikiwe stadium.
Victory in Sagamu on Sunday will at least be enough for the Pride of Rivers to keep their heads above water depending on if results elsewhere go their way. Defeat simply can not be thought of even though it is one of three possible outcomes of a football game.
3. Dump dirty art of ‘time wasting’ tricks.
It’s no secret of how football teams employ different antics to wound down time in protection of a lead or a point. Nigerian club sides are no exception of this dirty art and if there’s any side who have mastered football’s time wasting tricks, it is Rivers United.
Many at times, you’d see a goalkeeper or an outfield player go down wincing in pain in a theatrical performance worthy of winning an Oscar, only for the same player to get up minutes later looking fitter than Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime.
Against Katsina United, football’s proverbial soccer punch struck with the away side scoring with virtually the last kick of the game after Sunday Rotimi had done…a Sunday Rotimi in goal. Having had the lead for the most part of that game instead of going for more goals, Rivers United resorted to time wasting, a trick they have deployed time and time again at home especially by their goalkeepers (Femi Thomas, Abiodun Akande inclusive).
Whether they take the lead on Sunday or not, this part of their ‘tactics’ shouldn’t be seen from the first minute. The team is desperately in need of goals and points, so why waste precious time grimacing on the pitch like one auditioning for a talent show? Goodnews Sundays fixture will be live on TV, hopefully that will make players embrace the challenge at hand rather than resorting to the silliness of time wasting at every turn of the game because it’s an away fixture.