Heartland head coach, Fidelis Ilechukwu insists that their Sunday home loss to MFM in the opening fixture of the 2019-20 Nigeria Professional Football League season could turn out to be a positive inspiration to the team if they do not allow the defeat to weigh them down ahead of subsequent matches.
The Naze Millionaires slumped to a 1-0 loss to the Olukoya Boys at the Okigwe Township Stadium in the reunion between Ilechukwu and his former employers.
The head coach says the only way they can defuse the pressure they put themselves into as a result of the home defeat is to ensure that they fight back to acquire the lost points and ensure that they are evenly balanced on the league table before the end of the first round.
The assistant coach of the Under 23 team takes responsibilities for the loss and thus apologise to their fans and other football stakeholders in the state that might have been hurt by their home loss.
“It is so sad that we had to lose our first game of the season,” Ilechukwu told npfl.ng.
“I was expecting a tough game from my former team before this game because I know the calibre of players I left behind even though they are quite young. It is football and what we must do now is to regroup ahead of the next game.
“I can say that MFM were better in the first half but we dominated the second half. We, however, threw away a lot of chances which could have swung the result in our favour. When you create chances upon chances the way we did and they were not utilized it is just normal that you pay for it.
“It is not a do or die affair and we still have lots of matches to be played. I won’t blame anybody for the loss and I take full responsibility for the defeat because had we won it is the coach that will take the glory.”
Ilechukwu assures that their fans will see a new Heartland team with more fighting spirits and precision when they trade tackles with Rivers United this weekend in Port Harcourt and in their subsequent matches as well.
He revealed that some few lapses have been spotted and that they are going to be corrected before the next game.
“We have noticed a few lapses we are going to close before our next game,” he continued.
“No game is easy in the Nigerian league and I know that the fans are not happy with the kind of turnout we had today (Sunday) which we have not had before. It is painful that we had to lose the first game the way we did. We are very sorry about the result and we apologise to all our fans that have come from far and near irrespective of the bad roads and other issues to come for the game.”
The gaffer challenged everyone in the club not to give up while alluding to a certain club in the topflight last season that started the season poorly and only to be among the first clubs to qualify for the NPFL Championship playoffs
“We can’t just give up the chase after only a game,” Ilechukwu further told npfl.ng.
“Some teams didn’t start well last season but they ended up playing in the season-ending Championship playoffs in Lagos. It is what the sport is all about. This (the defeat) shouldn’t stop us from working on the areas we must improve on to ensure that we get it right from the subsequent games.
“I just want to assure our fans that we won’t give up and we also need their support too. I know that when a team loses the first game of the season especially at home, there is the tendency to want to be under pressure. The players know what it meant to lose at home and they know that they must fight back when they face Rivers United in Port Harcourt.”