Just last season, Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries FC made their debut in the Nigerian Professional Football League and dazzled from the start, playing an exciting brand of football rarely seen in the country before.
Predictably, this style led to results, but towards the second half of the season they began to fizzle out and only narrowly avoided the drop.
However, it’s been a different story for the Lagos-based team this season as they currently sit in second place on the NPFL log, five points behind leaders Plateau United with a game in hand. With the second stanza of the campaign already in full gear, can the Olukoya Boys claim an unlikely title success despite their limited top flight experience?
Speaking to Goal after MFM's 2-0 win over ABS FC at the Agege Stadium on July 2, coach Fidelis Ilechukwu said that the title race was still open and anything could still happen.
Enyimba are currently just two points behind the Olukoya Warriors in third place, while Akwa United and El-Kanemi Warriors are three points back. One can't rule out Lobi Stars, FC Ifeanyi Ubah and Niger Tornadoes as they are still closely in the hunt for the continental places.
While MFM have failed to pick any points on the road in the second half of the season, they have won all of their home games, bar the 0-0 draw against Akwa United at the restart.
The stalemate against the Promise Keepers has remained their only blemish on home turf, and in a league where home wins pays huge dividends, they appear destined for big things.
When quizzed about the improved form of his team in the second phase of this season, Ilechukwu attributed it to discipline. He says there’s a sense of togetherness which is bringing in the results despite not having big names in his squad.
Ilechukwu decided to keep midfield maestro Chukuwuemeka Onuwa on the bench against ABS, citing fatigue, and started 17-year-old Elijah Akanni in his place. Yet there was no sign of struggle. Even Stephen Odey was off his penalty duties with Augustine Ogunye taking charge, and he didn’t miss when the opportunity presented itself.
When asked why Odey didn’t take the spot kick that resulted in MFM’s opening goal, Ilechukwu mentioned that the three points were more important than the goals.
A lot of attention has been on Odey this season because of his fantastic goalscoring form as he's found the net 16 times, and all eyes are now on him to see if he can break Mfon Udoh’s record of 23 goals in a single NPFL season.
Mountain of Fire FC are showing progress, doing things the right way, and it’s brilliant to watch for neutral fans.
However, knowing that the second half of the season is full of the hustle and bustle of teams trying to make haste in achieving their objectives, MFM must not let their heads down at this point.
They're clear of the relegation battle, and will not have to face the kind of pressures they dealt with last season, but can they keep their momentum going over the coming weeks?
To finish in the top three, guaranteeing a berth in either the Caf Champions League or Confederations Cup, should be the aim for Ilechukwu’s team, but should they eventually beat Plateau United to the title, they would cap off an extraordinary campaign.That would be an incredible achievement for a privately run club that came in and shook the foundations of the Nigeria Professional Football League within a very short notice.