Side Kick

ABS’ Puma deal and relegation dogfight

After their return to the top flight, Abubakar Bukola Saraki (ABS) FC threw up some impressive performances at the beginning of the current campaign but the team has since slowed down and currently enmeshed in relegation dogfight.

At the moment, the club is placed 16th on the log with 35 points from 28 matches and the situation may get worse with games against Rivers United (h), Gombe United and Enugu Rangers in one week.

Last weekend’s defeat at home to Sunshine Stars came as a rude shock to the management and supporters of ABS especially as all four goals of the visitors were scored in the second half. Before last weekend, Sunshine was winless in their last four matches against ABS.

The 4-2 defeat means ABS remains winless in four consecutive matches. Also, the result is the most emphatic away win recorded in the Nigeria Professional League (NPFL) this season.  In the same vein, Sunshine Stars became the 10th NPFL team to record an away win this season.

One thing is clear, Henry Makinwa and his coaching team had little or no knowledge about Sunshine since Duke Udi took over, otherwise they would have known that the club has scored all its goals under the new boss in the second half. With such knowledge, ABS would have been better prepared for the second half instead of the insipid display they put up.

Given the ‘unhealthy situation’ the club found itself, it was not a surprise that an impromptu meeting was held on Monday by the ABS hierarchy to arrest the ugly trend.

According to sources close to the club, Coach Henry Makinwa has now been handed three-match ultimatum failure of which he may be shown the exit door.

Surprisingly, the club’s free fall started on the day ABS launched their Puma kits against Kano Pillars FC at the Kwara State Stadium Complex.  The visitors almost escaped with the three points until Makinwa’s team scored a dramatic equaliser in stoppage time to end the tie 1-1. That result was followed by 2-0 and 2-1 defeats to MFM and Shooting Stars respectively. The latest defeat of the club came against Sunshine at the weekend and it is the first time ABS will be conceding as many as four goals at home in the top flight.

The last time the team suffered similar defeat in the NPFL was the 2-3 reverse against Kano Pillars in March 2013.

Though many may blame ABS’ present predicament on ill-luck, inexperience and injuries to key players, I however believe there is an urgent need to take stock of the input of the bench.

For a coach reportedly being paid over a million naira monthly, I believe Makinwa has not justified the huge confidence and investment in him by the management. Though ABS may not have the biggest and superlative squad to win the NPFL like the Enyimbas, Pillars’ or the Ifeanyi Ubahs, I however believe the team is good enough to finish among the top 10.

Makinwa for me seemed not to know the strength of his squad and his starting XI.

Since the first day of the season, it was apparent the team laboured to score goals reason they dropped valuable points at home and on the road. The team particularly has poor away record having lost their last nine matches on the road and it remains to be seen whether they will hold on to their record of not losing 10 successive away matches.

Even most of their victories at home have been achieved with odd goal with 1-0 the more pronounced result.

Anytime the issue of profligacy of his attackers came up, Makinwa consistently promised to address the situation but till date, there have been no such improvement.

Since the strikers in the squad failed to sharpen their scoring boots, one would have expected that Makinwa will poach proven goal scorers from other domestic league clubs but ABS seemed contended signing U-15 players at a time it was apparent they needed experienced legs.

The coach and his lads now have it all to do with only two points separating ABS from Gombe Utd, Rivers Utd and Shooting Stars in 17th, 18th and 19th position in that order.

At this stage, the club cannot afford to drop further points especially at home. ABS will also need to gather as many points they can realise away from home to be sure of safety.

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