Fidelis Ilechukwu has refused to blame a burgeoning injury crisis for his side’s loss to Akwa United on Thursday, laying the blame for Heartland’s 3-1 defeat to the leaders squarely on his players’ penchant for ‘defensive blunders’.
Charles Atshimene’s first half double was reduced by Chijioke Akuneto before John Ubong Friday sealed the win for the hosts with seventeen minutes left on the clock.
The win returned Kennedy Boboye’s side, now unbeaten in sixteen games, to the summit of the Nigeria Professional Football League on 49 points after 26 games, just one ahead of second-placed Kano Pillars who they face in a potential title decider at the weekend.
For Heartland, it is now five games without a win after winning the previous three. And while Ilechukwu admits to “small challenges” with regards to their recent performances, the former MFM gaffer said Akwa United were just better on the day and insists his side has acquitted themselves creditably this season considering their poor start and off-field challenges.
The Owerri side are eleventh, just a point from the top half of the table and a far cry from when they looked certainties for relegation after a horrendous start made worse by a transfer ban, months of unpaid salary and boardroom wranglings.
“I think we still have small challenges, which I think we’re going to address very soon,” Ilechukwu said following his side’s defeat in Uyo. “We’re looking at the team performance. But it’s not too bad if you look at the challenges of the team from when we started.”
“The FIFA ban, not signing players and other things. To me, the boys did not do badly, but so far so good, because when you want to play a team like Akwa United you must play very well. Today’s game, I think I’ll give it to Akwa United.”
Heartland has had to cope without the services of key players in recent matches including Super Eagles goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa and talented youngster Samuel Nnoshiri who abandoned the club for Katsina United in a move that is still the subject of acrimonious mudslinging.
Ilechukwu has however refused to countenance the absences as the reason for his team’s struggles pointing out that several of their losses had more to do with bad defending than injury-enforced absences.
“Yes we have injury challenges as well, but in football when you lose, you don’t have to be giving excuses, you just need to go and work,” he said.
“It happened in our last game against Rivers United, a defensive blunder and today it happened again. So, I think we have to go home and work on that because the two goals are twitchy, but there’s nothing you can do.”
Ilechukwu will have an opportunity to see how much improved his defence is when they host Jigawa Golden Stars on matchday 27 at the weekend.