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Aliyu Zubairu: Gombe United youngsters will continue to oppress opponents in NPFL

Obviously satisfied with the fighting spirit so far exhibited by his crop of young players, the technical adviser of Gombe United, Coach Aliyu Zubairu, has…

Obviously satisfied with the fighting spirit so far exhibited by his crop of young players, the technical adviser of Gombe United, Coach Aliyu Zubairu, has said his boys will continue to give opponents in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) a tough time. In this interview with Daily Trust, the experienced gaffer explained how he has built a winning mentality in his players, Gombe United’s target in the ongoing NPFL season, challenges of playing in the Nigerian top flight and his most painful loss so far in the current league season.

Coach, how happy are you with your latest victory over MFM of Lagos?

I am a very happy man and there is no coach that will not be considering the fact that goal scoring has been our major challenge this season. And it has been the problem of most teams not only in Nigeria but across the world. So, when your team wins convincingly, you must commend the players.

Considering the performance of MFM this season, it can be said the opposition wasn’t strong and that was why your team cruised to victory…

I disagree. This is not the first time we are beating a team by this high margin. We once defeated Lobi Stars by the same margin. Therefore, our victory over MFM is not a fluke. It may interest you to know that we are working on our conversion ratio. We have to ensure we replicate our performance at home on the road. Our best away result this season is the 1-1 draw at Nasarawa United. When we played against Akwa United in Uyo, we had more than eight clear chances in the first half but we didn’t take any. In the end, we lost the match. Other teams have been winning away matches so nothing stops us from doing the same. The boys are playing well so what is left is for us to start scoring goals.

Gombe United returned to the NPFL at the beginning of the season. What would you say is responsible for the noticeable improvement in the ‘Desert Scorpions’?

The boys are playing as a team. They understand one another and it is becoming difficult to play against them. There is no team that has not struggled to beat us. They confess that we are a hard nut to crack. Any team that underrates us does so at its own peril. The boys are young but determined. I have continued to encourage them to keep fighting no matter the odds that are against them. And most of them are within what I will call coaching age. This means they are willing to learn new things. They are teachable. In Gombe United, most of our players are indigenes. We decided to source for young players within the state. We have also added a few experienced players outside Gombe State. In fact, 75 per cent of the players were with us in the NNL. So, my players are young boys who want to make a name for themselves.

What is the target for Gombe United this season?

I think the target, based on my discussion with the management, is for the team to remain stable in the top flight. But my own stability is not just to remain in the NPFL at the end of the season but to finish among the top eight teams. If we say we are fighting for a continental ticket, we may be setting a target that is unrealistic. It is better we don’t put pressure on the boys by setting unrealistic targets. So, our target is to finish among the top eight clubs and if I am around next season or a new coach comes in, then they can set a more realistic target of a continental ticket.

How much support is Gombe United getting from the government?

The government has been doing excellently well in the area of payment of salaries. However, the issue of logistics has remained a big problem. It has not been easy for us to travel for our away matches. The management committee has been struggling to cope with the financial requirements in this regard. If we are given more support, we would surely do better. I remember we arrived at Ijebu-Ode on the eve of our match with Sunshine Stars. We couldn’t even shake up. There was fatigue. I believe if we had left Gombe on Thursday instead of Friday, we could have had at least a day to rest and recover. The truth is that teams that travel to away matches by air will rest more and perform better than those that cover long distances by road. You can’t expect the same performance from players who sat in the bus for two days before they arrived at the match venue. The performance can never be the same, unless fatigue is not a reality. I am, therefore, appealing to our sports loving governor to come to our aid in the area of logistics.

What would you say is your team’s best performance so far this season?

Our best performance was against Akwa United in Uyo. Even though we lost, we played our best match so far. It was circumstances beyond us that denied us at least a point in that match. In 30 minutes, we created over eight clear cut chances. Unfortunately, we didn’t use any.

And what is your worst match so far?

I will say our defeat against Katsina United in Katsina was a painful one. We took the lead early in the match. We were on top of the game. But when the second half resumed, my boys relaxed and Katsina United equalised in the first minute of the half. We kept pushing but when the referee refused to end proceedings when the five additional minutes after regulation time were exhausted, my players lost concentration. I don’t know what they were thinking, our opponents got the winning goal in the 99th minute instead of the five minutes that were initially added. But that is not an excuse because the referee didn’t stop us from playing. As long as Katsina United were still paying, we should have continued to pay because the referee is the sole judge of time in a match. So, the momentary loss of concentration cost us the three points.

What is your assessment of officiating in the ongoing NPFL season?

I don’t want to be talking about officiating. My job is to coach. The duty of referees is to officiate. Whether they are doing it right or wrong, there are people to assess them. We have referees’ assessors who evaluate them. And we have journalists who should write, if they are doing well or not. As a coach, my responsibility is to manage my team. They do their job and I do mine.

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