Ahead of the first Southwest derby in the 2019/2020 NPFL season, an expert on Sunshine Stars says the Owena Whales are more than Israel Abia.
Abia has been in superb form lately for the Akure-based team, with six goals eight matches to top the NPFL scorers chart.
Four of those goals came the last time Sunshine played in front of their home fans, but according to Olaoluwa Adeleye, there is more to the Whales than their impressive forward, Abia.
— Sunshinestars Focus (@SSfocuz) December 17, 2019
ACLSports.com met with Ola, a journalist at FUTA Radio, Akure, who has closely followed Sunshine for four years.
He spoke extensively to YourSportsMemo and NPFLMoments on Abia, Sunshine Stars, the Southwest derby and how the locals are angry with MFM for mobilizing their church members to fill up the 5500 capacity stadium each time are in Akure.
MFM is always a tricky tie for Sunshine
With both teams set for their eighth meeting in the NPFL, MFM have won four of the previous seven, and this, Ola says means this fixture is always ‘tricky’ for the home side.
“The tie is always tricky for Sunshine Stars, which boils down to the results they’ve been getting in the tie recently, ” he said.
“Apart from the last season’s tie, which was played in May that produced a 4-2 result, the game has this reputation of not producing a lot of goals and sometimes, MFM dominate play right here in Akure.”
On the form of Abia and Sunshine
Despite his form for the Whales, Ola believes the form of Sunshine is down to not just Abia’s form but their business in the transfer market and their coach, Kabiru Dogo.
“(While Sunshine Stars have been brilliant of late) you can’t put the brilliance down to Israel Abia alone. As a matter of fact, Abia just hit form in the game against Nasarawa United where he got four goals.
“(But) the only thing Abia could bring to the table is that his recent form has made the Owena Whales forget so soon their recent goal scoring problems since Sikiru Alimi moved to Lobi Stars.
Time to celebrate a hitman; join us wish our MD7 four-goal hero, Israel Abia a happy birthday. Have a fabulous one, Abia! ?? pic.twitter.com/PtNvsjO2Du
— Sunshine Stars FC (@SunshineFCAkure) December 10, 2019
Maybe a sign that they finally have a point man? Abia’s consistency would answer that.”
“For the Stars, they’ve always been creating chances with their main problem being converting the chances.
“I think they have finally learnt a lesson from the travails of the last three seasons, where they had to fight hard to maintain their top-flight status.
As a result, they retained coach Kabiru Dogo who signed a couple of experienced players, especially in their problematic defence and midfield, where they lost Dayo Ojo to Enyimba.
They brought in guys like Jonathan Zikiye, Jamiu Alimi- who has settled in well at the defence-, Bright Akpojubweuvwo among others who have been able to bring stability to the team.
They had issues fielding these new players in their first couple of games, due to registration issues which I feel contributed to their slow start.
And now they are beginning to play, I think the result is what we are seeing based on recent performances.”
Why the Southwest Derby is Special
The game on Thursday will see only the two teams from the Southwest in the NPFL go head to head, and for Ola, it is a game made more ‘special’ because of the absence of clubs like Shooting Stars in the NPFL.
“This is a very special fixture if you ask me, no thanks to the inconsistencies of the likes of Shooting Stars and Remo Stars in recent years, as they have not been regular NPFL campaigners, especially Shooting Stars.
As it stands, it is the only Derby in the South-West part of the country, which is why I think it is special.”
Does that mean a rivalry exists between the Olukoya Boys and their Akure Gunners neighbours?
“No history of clear rivalry at all between both teams, compared to what you would see when Sunshine Stars play Shooting Stars, ” Ola said.
“It doesn’t go beyond the fact that both teams are playing in the southwest.”
However, the locals do not like the tactics deployed by the Church Boys each time they arrive Akure for this particular tie.
“But for MFM, being a church club, they always mobilize their members to the stadium and most times, it does not really go down well with the local fans.
I remember a case in the 2016/2017 season when MFM won in Akure, the church members were scared to celebrate the victory with the angry and intimidating presence of the home fans.
I do think generally in Nigeria home teams are always assured of maximum support, bar sometimes when visiting teams travel with a sizable number of supporters.
But for MFM, oftentimes they come in their numbers get into the stands sometimes shouting ‘Fire Fire Fire’ and even praying, hence matching the energy of the home crowd.
And because this is quite alien to our football culture in Nigeria in recent times, it gets to the home supporters and sometimes the reaction is not always good.”
Separated by just three points on the NPFL table, albeit the home side has played a game more, Ola suggests the tie would be a keenly contested affair and the hosts must be wary of MFM, who are one of the best teams so far on the road in the NPFL.
“For Sunshine Stars, they will simply pick it up from where they stopped on Sunday at the Pantami Stadium Gombe where they won resoundingly 3-0 and continue the winning momentum. Looks like the new guys have finally settled into the team and it may just be another win.
Knowing that they have the chance of moving into the second position on the log and get into the conversation of title contenders, I think it would be a big motivation for them.
For MFM, their early season form on the road where they won two games away from home with the opening day win at Heartland and the famous win at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in Enugu is one reason why Sunshine Stars should fear them.
Although, they’ve lost two games on the road since then, I think Sunshine Stars should watch out for Tony Bolus’ men especially after their 3-0 win over the not so impressive Akwa United last time out.”