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The Essence Of Away Wins

Posted: Jul 25, 2015 at 1:39 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Steve Oma-Ofozor,  Lagos

 

In the past the Nigerian clubs are contented with home wins.

The best they hope to get at away matches was a draw.

This season, however, the philosophy has changed as the number of away wins in the league is on the rise, and their worth to the league is more than just three points.

Against this background, much of the increased attention generated by the NPFL teams this season is predicated on the unpredictability which according to respondents was a key factor—and it is undeniable that uncertain outcomes make for better spectacles.

This revolves on the increased number of away wins, up to about one per match day. All of last season, 13 teams won at least one game away from home; this season, after 19 match days, 11 teams have won at least one win on the road.

In a league where home advantage is still a major factor, this has the potential to be a major decider. It is no surprise then that the current top four includes the three sides with the best away records in the league this season.

Fans surging into the stadium to watch a match

Fans surging into the stadium to watch a match

In terms of quality of players, the NPFL suffered a hemorrhage in the off-season, losing the likes of Peter Ebimobowei, Emem Eduok and Osaguona Ighodaro, all of whom hit double figures last season.

In the same vein, the reigning league top goal scorer, Mfon Udoh, has struggled for fitness for much of this season.

The quality of play has also not improved significantly: the goal average per game (an admittedly reductive metric for judging, but all others are subjective) is down from 2.2 last year to 2.12 in this.

This is partly explained by the player drain, but also throws into contrast just how crucial a factor the concept of wins on the road has become.

League titles, accounting for the truism that luck (an often underappreciated factor in football) evens itself out of over 38 games, often resolve in favour of the best team.

How this is discovered might differ—whether by virtue of having the best players (financial), the best unit (mental), or the more coherent playing style (tactical).

However, there is no real gradient of quality in the league between the best and worst teams. This, apart from the issue of officiating – which is being addressed a lot better than in previous seasons – explains why even the away grounds of struggling teams come with no guarantee for visitors and consequently, why an away win causes such a ripple in the league.

Kano Pillars has won the league three years on the bounce, and has as its foundation a formidable home record going back 12 years. This has earned the club the tag of poor travelers, but in truth, it is not altogether accurate.

Last year, for example, only two teams had a better away record in the league than Pillars: Enyimba and Heartland; the year before that, only three—one of them was relegated Kwara United!

The financial situation of most clubs is also basically the same: most teams run as extensions of state governments and receive their funding from this source. Hence, a true superpower is yet to emerge and accumulate the sort of quality needed to dictate terms in the league.

Pillars is again the closest, but has failed to address some glaring flaws in the team. An administrative negligence robbed it of Christian Obiozor, who has been a revelation since joining Enyimba and the club has struggled for goals in the continued absence of star striker Gambo Mohammed.

It becomes apparent then that, with the same broad level of mental and financial input, the only other means of gaining comparative advantage is in terms of tactics.

Sadly, this remains a largely under-explored avenue. There have been very few instances of the sort of input from the dugouts that decide games, and when they have come, they have been so basic as to be almost derisive.

Abia Warriors and Pillars have utterly dominated Enyimba in midfield in the league this season, and it was painful to see Kadiri Ikhana, a former CAF Champions League winning coach, struggle to come to terms with the concept of numerical superiority.

The deficit of these factors perfectly sets up the league; with few comparative advantages, the importance of rare away wins is inflated beyond a mere three points. As a result, it is very likely that whoever wins the title come November will have to discover the greatest consistency on the road.