Tagged the ‘Biggest game in the club’s history’ by the club’s media department. Or so it might have seemed if it had ended on a positive note. But, coach Chibeb Ellili and his Club Africain side were in no mood to be penned down as one of those sides who failed to get a good result on their visit to Port Harcourt.
Ever since Nigeria Premier League side Dolphins Football Club were renamed to Rivers United on February 18, 2016, the club based in Nigeria’s southern city of Port Harcourt had not tasted defeat in 16 months of playing competitive football at the Yakubu Gowon stadium…then came the Tunisians to Port Harcourt.
Two second-half goals from Haddad Manoubi and an own-goal from Rivers United captain, Festus Austin gave Club Africain a 0-2 victory at a rain soaked Yakubu Gowon stadium. The win saw the Tunisians become the first side ever in all competitions to taste victory in Port Harcourt since their renaming. The loss, their third in the group, left Rivers United with a huge mountain to climb if they must qualify for the Quarter-finals of the CAF Confederation Cup. Here are three takeaways from a day history was made in Port Harcourt.
Same old problems hunt Rivers United
Goals win football matches, if you don’t score you don’t win. A familiar line for football followers but maybe not for Rivers United. In a game when they needed to win and score goals while at it, the team failed to get on the score-sheet despite having four forwards at a certain point in the match on the field of play.
Obviously the blame game have started with their fans laying the bulk of it solely at the feet of the club’s gaffer Stanley Eguma as was seen and heard at the stadium on Sunday when the home fans booed their side and instead hailed the visitors. Others instead chose to bemoan the team’s profligacy in front of goal, notably, the miss by Bernard Ovoke when he raced clear on goal with his side trailing.
This piece isn’t about who should bare the brunt for the reason why the side isn’t scoring goals or even winning matches away from home. Fact is, goal scoring has been the same problems that has plagued the side all season long and here it hunted them.
Mathematically possible, realistically impossible
So here we are at a familiar cross road, the silly game of permutation.
Victory for Club Africain yesterday coupled with KCCA FC’s 3-1 win at home to FUS Rabat leaves the Tunisian side needing just a point to qualify for the next round. Both Club Africain and KCCA are tied on 9 points. Both teams play each other in Tunis in their final group stage fixture.
Meanwhile Rivers United and FUS Rabat are tied on six points. Both sides slug it out in Morocco in their final group-stage match. Rivers United must win in Morocco by three or more goals and hope Club Africain defeat KCCA in Tunisia.
A really tough ask for a side who are yet to win away from home all season-long. Good luck on the permutation front Rivers United fans.
Where does this leave Rivers United’s fan appeal?
Not many times do you see or hear a Nigerian club embark on campaigns to bring fans to their stadium. Campaigns ranging from roadshows, radio jingles and other incentives for early arrivals on matchday were employed by the club to get fans fill their 16,000 capacity Yakubu Gowon stadium.
Despite torrential rainfall, over 7000 fans trouped to the stadium to be a part of ‘history in the making’. Little did they know what they were about to witness.
A drab uninspiring first-half performance was followed by a second-half in which their team only showed urgency after they went behind.
Immediately Austin deflected Mokhtar Belkhither’s cross into his own net, fans trouped out of the stadium in droves. The ones who remained, turned on the home team, opting to boo the Pride of Rivers and sang chants calling for Eguma’s head.
Sadly, the gains of that campaign embarked on in the week commencing the CAF Confederation Cup fixture lies in limbo. Will they turn-out for the next home match? What will the perception of those who had intentions of coming to see Rivers United play but watched them lose on TV in such manner be? All these remains to be seen but surely perception and appeal of the club to fans have been dented by this result.