Only 14 matches into their first Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) campaign since getting relegated two seasons ago, Heartland FC of Owerri are already battling to avoid relegation again.
The Naze Millionaires have endured a torrid season this year, winning just four games in total and drawing the same number of games while losing as much as six, a number which may not be significant taking into cognizance the nature of the NPFL but a look at their win ratio is brazenly a sign for concern.
Call it solidarity or compensation, Heartland FC managed to stick with the same bench that won them promotion from the Nigeria National League (NNL) and also went ahead to employ a few players from the same NNL too. The level and experience in the NNL can never be compared to that of the NPFL. Though the likes of Junior Lokosa, Tosin Omoyele, Wasiu Alalade and even Fuhad Eledejoti who all played for FirstBank FC of Lagos at one point in their career stepped up when they got to the NPFL but these are only a few and lots of hard work has been put in for such performance. Heartland FC failed to prepare properly for their return and Coach Ramson Madu bore the consequences.
Aimed at improving performances, the management of the Owerri based club introduced Man of the Match and Player of the Month awards which come with cash prizes and also promised a certain amount for every goal scored at home, but all these seemed not to work as the team kept struggling to churn out results and kept falling closer to the relegation zone.
With the incentives and sweeteners seemingly unproductive, Coach Ramson Madu became the first person to be sacked before receiving his League Bloggers Award (LBA) manager of the month award, thereby allowing for his sons to receive the award in his stead, an award he won for his strides in the month of February. Heartland FC’s best month in the NPFL so far this season.
With his sack came Coach Ezekiel Onyegbulem, whose first game in charge saw Heartland lose a controversial lead to Nasarawa United before getting a winner also in controversial circumstances with the same problems visible all through the game and no real improvement seen.
In a last ditch move, the Imo state ministry of sports decided to retake the team and manage the team directly but that may not seem to be enough as Heartland looks very ordinary and must recruit experienced legs to survive.
Call it early days but the fight for Heartland’s NPFL survival is already on!