By Tunde Liadi
Heartland FC produced a dramatic second half display to force visitors Lobi Stars to a 2-2 draw in one of the opening fixtures of the Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) season played at the Dan Anyiam Stadium, Owerri on Saturday.
It was all Lobi Stars in the first half and after a domineering start they were 2-0 ahead by half-time following the goals scored by Adebayo Waheed and Francis Odinaka in the 16th and 38th minutes respectively.
Waheed with a long-range effort that squirmed through the hands of Heartland goalkeeper Chisom Chiaha for the Pride of Benue’s curtain raiser after 16 minutes while Odinaka who was playing against his former club placed his shot before the reach of the Owerri goalie about seven minutes before half time.
It was as if Heartland FC were dead and buried at halftime but the home team’s head coach, Christian Obi effected some changes with the introduction of Patrick Nwogbaga and Ezekiel Bassey in place of ineffective Onyekachi Okafor and Tunde Oyewole who had a decent game before he was replaced.
Nwogbaga began the comeback in the 73rd minute when he rifled home the ball from close range before Bassey completed the comeback with the equaliser in the 87th minute. He slipped while celebrating the goal and needed medical attention before he could continue.
Sensing an unlikely home win, the home team swooped on the visitors’ goal area like bees in search of the match winner but Lobi Stars resisted the effort and were able to settle for a draw.
Speaking at the end of the game, Heartland FC head coach, Christian Obi praised the fighting spirits of his players and stressed that his half time pep talk played a huge role in the comeback.
He said they would reassess the game and ensure they play better than they did against Lobi Stars in subsequent games.
“It was a tough game filled with emotions. My boys didn’t get their rhythm in the first half,” Obi told npfl.com.ng.
“It wasn’t as if they didn’t try but the ball didn’t yield to what they wanted but after the instructions given to them before the start of the second half, they made the necessary adjustments and we got our goals.”
Obi rose in defence of his goalkeeper, Chisom Chiaha who had a bad game and conceded two cheeky goals stating that it may be his off day having saved the team several times in the past.
On his part, the head coach of Lobi Stars, Eugene Agagbe blamed his players lack of concentration for the blip in the second half but was happy they ended the first game of the season with an away point.
He promised to work on the grey areas noticed ahead of their subsequent games.
“It was a good first half for us but my boys lost concentration in the second half and paid dearly for it,” Agagbe, who had just been promoted to the head coach of Lobi Stars told npfl.com.ng.
“I won’t blame them as such but we shall speak about their performance and look at areas of improvement.”