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THE PEACE BOYS WHO’RE SLOWLY BREWING WAR IN THE NPFL

Written by on February 4, 2024

Every story starts with a hero: the man/woman whose presence changes the course of things forever…or not. Think of Merlin, the hero whose magic was needed to restore balance to the world. Think of Avatar, the forgotten airbender whose bending skills must be harnessed to bring peace to the four kingdoms. In this story, however, there are no heroes in the way heroes are defined; there is no saving, only staying afloat. And in staying afloat, you need oxygen and a clear set of eyes to see ahead. This story begins with the transitioning of a man, it starts where another man’s journey ended. 

NPFL AND ITS ENDEMIC UNCERTAINTY

The Nigeria Premier Football League, as rebranded with same logo, just an eagle in a different angle, has a consistent theme no matter how holds the reigns of power: the league must be postponed. It doesn’t matter who prays for the league, or the type of libation poured on the grounds, the league must be postponed before it starts. Postponment is like the ‘kick’ of a car engine, it must happen before the league can properly commence. 

After several postponements, the Nigeria Premier League, NPFL, finally started in October, amidst different squabbles around broadcasting rights and its fianncial commitment to clubs. The plethora of issues, however, was not new to NPFL fans who have had to, in recent times, deal with changing seaon resumption dates that fluctuated like hormonal imbalance. But it started, after two postponments, and we were happy for it. 

While the NPFL boardmembers and club chairmen were busy fighting in the boardrooms over how much they should get, lying about an unknown amount from broadcasting companies, football clubs were doing the ground work to ensure the season be successful. While success differs for different clubsides, the goal is always almost the same: win the league. Even though we know some club won’t win the league, realistically speaking, nobody has been killed for having a dream. It is some Martin Luther King some’in.

PLATEAU UNITED’S IMMINENT CHANGES

However, for a club like Plateau United whose 2022/2023 season was underwhelming when you consider their position in NPFL’s recent history, and the fact that they did not qualify for the super 6 in Lagos, it was important that the club’s management reshuffled things on and off the pitch. That reshuffling had to happen, and happen fast.

Now, before i delve any deeper into what these reshuffling entailed, at least in a summarised version, it is imperative to state here that the reshuffling took longer than neccesary. It was done late into the post-season, which, on a normal day, should spell doom for the club and whatever ambition it harboured after the end of the 2022/2023 season. But life – and by extension, football – is like biscuit, you never know where would be sweetest (you weren’t expecting that, were you?). So, although the reshuffling was late, its impact did not have a catastrophic effect on th club, at least for now. 

Off the pitch, there was a new government, a new sheriff who many believed would change the fortunes of the state’s sports, and plateau United’s. Fans believed that the new sheriff’s goodwill, which has seen the governor voted into power, would translate into success for the state’s biggest football club, barring the resurgence of Mighty Jets, the first club to win the league. This optimism was greeted with support from major stakeholders in the state, ranging from sports media personalities and journalists to ex players and athletes. 

On the pitch, coach Fidelis Illechukwu was leaving for Enugu Rangers, having spent 2 seasons with the Peace boys, building a fan followership that is reminiscent of what Manchester United fans in England have for Sir Alex Ferguson. Such fan love and followership is something many caoches don’t enjoy in the NPFL. 

With Ilechukwu leaving, some of his trusted players left too. And it is normal; coaches have their trusted and tested soldiers, players they can go to war with, eyes closed and certain that they’ll deliver. Also, the team needed some rejigging in attack, no thanks to the financial constraints and injury worries that restricted Ilechukwu from signing players. 

Now that the fans’ coach was leaving, who takes over the reigns of power on the bench? 

THE CHOICE OF A COACH

The new management of the club, led by the General Manager, Habila Hosea Mutla, alongside his team, were saddled with the responsibility of finding a new coach, one with enough experience to continue from where Ilechukwu had stopped. Mbwas Mangut was the chosen one. Being a son of the soil, it was fitting that the former Enugu Rangers assistant coach would return home to take Plataau United to the next height. 

But what does the next phase mean?

Win the NPFL, in a season where Enyimba, Bendel insurance and Remo stars recruited well? In a season with newcomers Sporting Lagos coming with their fanfare and branding? A season where seasoned campaigners like kano Pillars were returning? What did the next phase mean for Plateau United?

THE START OF A NEW SEASON FOR PLATEAU UNITED

The season started for the peace boys with fanfare following the appointment of Mbwas Mangut, a son of the soil whose sojourn had finally led him home. Although Mangut was not one of the favourite candidates for the job initially, with names like kenedy Boboye springing up in the conversation, he was chosen for the job. As it is with fans of Plateau United, the coach got the support he needed, although the acceptance was somewhat slow, still he was loved and accepted. 

Again, we’d love to state here that Mbwas Mangut as the chosen one to lead the team in the 2023/2024 season did not meet strong resistance because, like i mentioned, he is a son of the soil. And his playing style wasn’t so different from Ilechukwu’s: it was swashbuckling, possesion-based and promised a lot of excitement. 

PLAYERS RECRUITMENT IN A THIN SQUAD

After his appointment, however, there were serious questions on player recruitment. Fidelis Ilechukwu struggled in his second season with player recruitment because the management of the team did not provid him with the necessary financial backing he needed. The tight-fistedness of the former governor, which led to players being owed months of salaries and management staff struggling to do basic things because of finance, served the team in no way. Also, like many governements in nigeria, monies earmarked for other sectors were best utilized in electioneering than for doing what they were earmarked for. The Nigerian curse strikes again. But aren’t we too familair with his curse?

OCHE’S EXIT AND ITS IMPACT ON PLATEAU UNITED

In his second season, the exit of Oche Ochewuche, a major part of the team’s setup, made goalscoring harder for the Ilechukwu’s team. Ilechukwu was left to deal with a thin squad that struggled for goals. But he thrived, albeit not to the fans’ level. 

So, with the appointment of a new head coach, fans wanted to know if the team would be strenghtened. Would new players be added to the side to boost their goalscoring and make them more competitive?

The fans also needed the coach to reinstill the confidence in players like Albert Hilary and Nenrot Silas, two player who struggled in front of goal in the previous season. 

A few recruitments meant the Peaceboys were strong again. But whether they were strong enough to compete with the best teams in the country was still up for debate. 

HOW THE SEASON HAS BEEN FOR PLATEAU UNITED, IN NUMBERS

After the first half of the season, Plateau United sits 6th on the table, winning 10, losing 8 and drawing 1. 

The position would suggest that the team is doing well as it is, especially as the point difference between Lobi stars (current table toppers), and Plateau United (6th on the log) is only 5 points.

However, a closer look at the team shows more than their position on the table. 

SOME TALKING POINTS IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE SEASON

First, Plateau United has consistently failed to impress away from home this season. Yes, they got that one win away from home against Niger Tornadoes in matchday 12, but they have lost all but one in the other away matches. Picking up 4 points away from home is not how you win the league from Enyimba. You have to either find a way to win and play draws away from home else you’d be left in midtable when the season ends. The NPFL is harsh in how it deals with teams that can’t get points away from home. 

Plateau United’s shabby away form would have to improve if they want to get a shot at the title this season. The coach’s pragmatism has not worked so far; the team has lost some games at the death, meaning they’ve not been able to stay focused away from home. 

Second, their goal scoring woes seem to have been solved somewhat with redhot Albert Hilary winning player of the month in January. It is a good thing for the team that they can now score goals freely. In the first half of the season, the team scored 24 goals, ranking as the 3rd highest scoring team in the league, behind Remo Stars (27) and Enugu Rangers (26). 

With Albert Hilary and Nenrot Silas leading the attack for the Peaceboys, Plateau United have found Joy in front of goal. But their defense has also leaked in many goals, conceeding as many as 18 goals so far this season. Some people might call it a good record until you consider how remo stars have fared so far, conceding 17 and scoring 27. However you look at it, the defense has not conceeded too many goals as Plateau United has a goal difference of +6, with Lobi stars (+7) and Remo Stars (+10) the only team with higher goal difference than the peace boys. 

The defensive solidity, if we are allowed to call it that, can also be attributed to the goalkeeping brilliance of goalkeeper John Amah. His ability to control his defense, play the ball from the back when necessary, and make crucial saves has been instrumental for the side. He has kept 6 clean sheets all season, not exactly bad for a team with a new manager and management. 

SHAKY DEFENSE IN NWEZE’S ABSENCE

Another issue with the Plateau United’s defense, as observed by journalists Rhairom Zamora, Caleb Theophilus and Gibson Ogunkunle is the lack of cohesion in the absence of Chris Nweze, who is on trial in Turkey. Although one can’t say with certainty why the cohesion have evaporated like alcohol exposed to Jos cold, but it is worthy of note that the team’s defensive solidity is shaky without Nweze, and the coach must find a way to fix it before the start of the second half. 

In attack, the team has been good. One can’t say great because while they have scored goals, they have also missed crucial chances this season. The words of a member of Plateau United’s media team, Rhairom Zamora, sums up the team’s effectiveness in front of goal.

“Players like Albert Hilary and Nenrot Silas have shone in the attack, contributing crucial goals. However, the team faces challenges in converting opportunities consistently.”

The stats might not say it all, but the team’s conversion rate, both home and away is 8%, which is bad given the number of chances they created and spurned. 

THE MIDFIELD DILEMA

If you ever watched Oche Ochewuche play for Plateau United, you’ll understand the criticisms the current midfield trio is getting from fans and journalists. The chances created by the midfield has been good, with Yakubu Adams leading the charge from the middle. However, the midfield finds it hard to boss possession against big teams. At home, Plateau United has an average ball possession of 52%, while away from home their ball possession stat is 47%. Players like Sam Pam would have to do more, be more commanding on and off the ball if this team wants to get a sniff at the title or even a top 4 finish. 

THE TEAM HAS BEEN BORING SOMETIMES

Coach Mangut said, when he was first appointed as head coach, that he will play exciting football, something the team was known for under Fidelis Ilechukwu. Even though it can be argued that his team has looked exciting sometimes, they have not been consistent in their style of play, and fans would be expecting more when the second half starts. 

100% HOME RECORD, A TRACK TO CONTINUE ON

Another thing to consider is the team’s 100% home record so far. They have won all their games at home, a trend that fans would hope to continue. The team’s impeccable home record, even though atimes their style can be tiring to watch, have shown the coaching crew’s

understanding of how to win the league. Their away form, which has flattered to deceive, however, needs to reflect their home dominance. 

At home, Plateau United look a different gravy than when they play away. It is not as though the team is not impresisve away from home – their average shot attempts per match away from home is 6.68, which is just a few points below Remo Stars (7) – they just have not been converting their chances away from home and have been leaking too many goals. A more defensive approach away from home (although that is what the coach has employed) would be beneficial to the team. 

Overall, it has been a good first half for Plateau United. The coaches have shown they can make the right substitutions, can make the team play whichever way is needed, depending on the team they’re up against. The team has also shown they can score goals, and defend too, sometimes. 

For Coach Mbwas Mangut and his team, Jay FM Sports team gives them 7/10. Hopefully they can win matches away from home, be more dominant at home and climb above teams like Kano Pillars, Enyimba, Doma United, Lobi Stars and Remo stars, and win the league. Their quest continue in their reverse fixture against table toppers Lobi Stars of Makurdi on February 14, 2024. 


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