Ezenwa getting his groove back at Heartland
The goalkeeping role is perhaps the most unforgiving when it comes to the margin of errors in the imperfect game of football.
Every member of the team on the pitch is allowed mistakes – strikers miss sitters, midfielders give wayward passes, defenders are also allowed some ‘Mustafic’ moments (a reference to Arsenal’s German defender) – same is not for the goalkeepers as any error from them most often proves fatal to the team.
That was the story of Super Eagles goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa in his first match for his home town club Heartland FC on MatchDay 1 of the 2019/20 NPFL season. Ezenwa was already buzzing after an AFCON bronze medal in the summer and looked forward to his debut for his new side.
The game against MFM FC did not turn out as planned for Ezenwa as his side lost 0-1 to MFM FC at home in Okigwe, with the goalkeeper held responsible for the goal scored by the Church team. Ezenwa also conceded two goals against Madagascar in Super Eagles AFCON outing in Egypt.
“I felt bad losing that first game against MFM because it was the first time in my 14-year career in the NPFL that I would lose a home game that I kept in,” Ezenwa told www.npfl.ng
So, Ezenwa’s enviable record of having never lost a home game he participated in which spans across different clubs in the Nigerian top flight – Ocean Boys, Sunshine Stars, FC Ifeanyiubah, Enyimba, Katsina United to mention a few – hit the deck on a day he so much looked forward to.
He continued: “As footballers, we are bound to face criticisms at one point or the other but the most important thing is that when that time comes, you have to be able to absorb it.
“I saw it (the entire scenario) as something that is going to propel me because I was not happy after that game but I had to accept the blame,” he added.
While goalkeepers sometimes get easily pardoned in other parts of the world, it is not particularly so in the Nigerian league where any goalkeeper that makes a mistake leading to a goal in a game is about 70 percent certain of being dropped for the next game.
What followed the MFM disappointment for Ezenwa was a 10-game absence from the team during which Godwin Ammeh (now at Warri Wolves) and old warhorse Chijioke Ejiogu manned the sticks for Fidelis Ilechukwu’s men.
Ezenwa resurfaced in the starting lineup for the crucial Oriental Derby against Rangers on MatchDay 11 and he was named Man of the Match in the 2-1 win in Okigwe due to his heroics. He has been in goal for the Naze Millionaires ever since then, keeping clean sheets in each of his last three matches.
A philosophical Ezenwa spoke on how he turned it around. “You know, as a man, you have to always look forward.
“If you have challenges, you look at what is ahead of you and they should inspire you to come back. I then got injured in training, which kept me out of the majority of the games.
“I saw these as setbacks but I never gave up and before we entered the new year, I was 100 percent okay before I played. What am I trying to say? We all are humans and nobody is immune to making mistakes but the most important thing is for you to correct it when it happens which I think I’ve done in my own way which is in training and believing in God,” the 31-year old stated.
Interestingly, after a series of chop and change by Ilechukwu at Heartland, Ezenwa who was held responsible for the opening day loss is now the only player in that starting line up on November 3 that is in the team’s starting lineup currently.
Heartland’s last match ended scoreless against Katsina United in Okigwe but they will visit Akwa United on MatchDay 17, a game Ezenwa believes his side must strive to get a result from.
“Immediately after the (Katsina) game, one thing I told them in the dressing room because I’m the leader for now in the absence of Chijioke Ejiogu.
“I told them it happens and what we are going to look forward to is the game against Akwa come Sunday because their spirit is also down because they lost back to back.
“So, we have to take the fight back to them, we just have to let this go. We defeated Enyimba and now we drew in our home. It is painful quite alright but if we start nursing it, it’s going to be a problem.
“We just have to let it go and start focusing on Akwa United which I’m very confident we are going to get a result there. That was the pep talk I gave to them and everyone was happy and cheered up before we left the stadium,” Ezenwa stated.
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