Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries FC need no introduction; having made their debut in the Nigeria Professional Football League last season, the Lagos-based side took everyone by surprise, putting in some very good displays in the first half of the campaign which left them sitting in the top ten of the table. They however found it difficult to maintain that momentum and tumbled down the table.
Ultimately, they beat the drop, but now, heading into their second campaign at the top table, need to demonstrate that they can avoid the late-season slump tthat almost saw them slip to the second tier.
So far, MFM have started well, playing seven games and winning four, including convincing displays at home against Niger Tornadoes, Lobi Stars, Kano Pillars and away at Sunshine Stars. The Olukoya Boys also recorded a credible draw at Shootings Stars in Ibadan, while their only blemishes were a heavy 4-0 defeat at FC Ifeanyi Ubah and a narrow 1-0 loss also away to Abubakar Bukola Saraki FC in Ilorin.
MFM sit in third place, four points behind league leaders, Plateau United. So far so good, but will the Olukoya Boys further improve and avoid the fall of last season this time around, or are they destined for another late-season decline?
The club management did a good job in keeping coach Fidelis Ilechukwu. The tactician was able to recruit some very young and talented players and it’s not hard to see why they’ve performed so well. His emphasis on playing as a unit with an attractive and attacking brand of football got both MFM faithful and the neutrals entertained, and even the Nigerian youth teams had to give some of the players a national call up.
MFM FC have been able to retain a good chunk of their players heading into the new campaign, which also fuels optimism. Indeed of the brilliant lot, only Ifeanyi Ifeanyi and Musa Newman have left, while the likes of Sikiru Olatunbosun, Stephen Odey, Stanley Okorom, Julius Emiloju, Obanor Erhun, Onuwa Chukwuka and Folarin Abayomi have all remained.
It’s no secret that retaining good players improves the quality of the squad. Seeing mass arrivals after an exodus isn’t always ideal as the new faces need time to gel. MFM do not have such worries and this could make them very solid this term.
What the Lagos-based side have been able to show so far, especially at home, is particularly impressive.
Their 3-0 and 4-0 wins over Niger Tornadoes and Lobi Stars respectively at the Agege Stadium were notable in their cohesion and ferocity, with the NPFL side demonstrating some awesome football.
This same performance was seen away at Shooting Stars in Ibadan and Sunshine Stars in Akure. With the vast network of MFM churches providing hospitality for travelling fans around the country, Ilechukwu’s men will approach away games in a good mood. All that is left on their path is to play with grit and keep believing in the coach's methods.
Some think it is too early to assert that MFM’s season will be better than the last so early in the campaign.
They have still have to travel to play sides like Nasarawa United, El-Kanemi Warriors, Enyimba and Wikki Tourists, while also entertaining the likes of Enugu Rangers, Abia Warriors, Rivers United and Plateau United who did well away from home last season.
From the view point of this writer, this season shouldn’t be another relegation battle for Mountain of Fire FC, as the terrain of the NPFL isn’t new to them any longer.
With more commitment, determination and focus, the Olukoya Boys with their elegant style of play should earn vital points.
Forward Stephen Odey leads the scoring chart with five goals, with three coming in the 4-0 demolition of Lobi Stars. He is already being tipped to finish as this season’s top marksman and could even be a potential pick for the Super Eagles.
Coach Ilechukwu, in a Goal exclusive, believes his side can win the league and aim for the continental places, but that might be over-ambitious having avoided the drop last season and also bearing in mind that the Nigerian top flight is filled with unpredictable outcomes.
A slot in one of the Caf competitions might also be too big an objective at this stage of the season, as many of the league’s established sides like Enyimba, Kano Pillars, Rangers and Rivers United will be fighting hard for those same top spots.
Perhaps a top-ten finish is a more realistic aim for MFM FC. It will be a major step forward, but early indications suggest that Ilechukwu's side are on the right track.