And then they were six. A dramatic Matchday 7, the final matchday of the regular season, saw Guns FC pull off an incredible upset to snatch the 6th and final playoff spot from Knights FC who, for months, seemed to have it in the bag. Guns FC joined Island Conference mates, Saints FC & Cubs FC as well as Mainland Conference trio, Bravos Knights FC, Raineri Ghost FC & last year’s finalists, Royals FC. This Saturday, the SociaLiga Playoffs kicks off and, of the 6 teams, 4 teams will bid the tournament farewell while 2 will move on to the finals to be played 16th of December at the Christmas festival. We take a look at the Island Conference teams and their chances of making it to the finals.
Saints FC (League Position: 1st)
Men lie, women lie but numbers don’t and the numbers say Saints FC have been the best team in the SociaLiga over the last 2 years. A loss to a spirited Guns last time out denied Saints FC the chance of becoming the first team to go an entire Regular Season unbeaten. Prior to the loss, the Saints FC had been on an 18-game unbeaten run which started with a 3-1 victory over Czars FC on the 16th of July, 2016. Last season, they scored a league high 19 goals & conceded a joint league low of 7 goals to finish the Regular Season with 20pts. This season, they again scored a league high 17 goals, conceded a league low of 5 goals and finished the Regular Season with 23pts. Hard to argue against those numbers. The beauty of the playoffs, however, is that everyone starts with a clean slate, and they’ll have to prove themselves again if they must retain their title. The good thing for them, though, is they finished as the #1 seed in the Island Conference which means they have the huge advantage of playing one game less than fellow conference mates, Cubs FC & Guns FC, who get to play in the Island Conference semi-finals while they have an automatic ticket to the Island Conference semi-finals.
Key Players: The Saints FC ooze class all over the pitch. Barring the 5-seconds of madness against Cubs FC, Adewale Opeyemi (@francis_adewale) has been very reliable between the sticks while the Bomba (@elubomba) led defense has been hard to break down (we call the Saints defense “The Pearly Gates” because it’s extremely hard for people to get past it). In midfield, Nurudeen Olusesi (@nurudeenolusesi) and Emeka Ikondu (@1playmeka) have been as solid as ever while new addition to attack, Tolu Benson (@___Tolu) has been dependable going forward, scoring a joint league high 5 goals. However, Saints FC’s main star will be Robert Odu (@robbyjay_10), the player who Bravos Knights’ Adebayo Olarenwaju (@ADEBAYO1411) described as one of the best players this season. Of his 5 goals, 3 have been winning goals while 1 has been a game-tying goal. He’s profited from having most of the attention from opposition defenders thrown at strike partner, Tolu Benson and wide-out, Nurudeen Olusesi. “Instincts, instincts. That’s all I’ll say, instincts.” when asked how he was able to lead the comeback against Cubs FC on Matchday 6 after going a goal down. “You have to be sharp. You have to anticipate. I expected the 2 crosses (from Nurudeen) and, understanding with my teammates, it was very easy. It was basic.” Robert Odu has repeatedly shown he’s the man to rely on when it’s squeaky bum time & on Saturday, Coach Bishi Abdulwaheed would be looking to him to deliver in the Island Conference final.
Cubs FC (League Position: 2nd)
There’s something lovable about Cubs FC; they always have a plan and in the game of football, there’s no stressing how important that is. Sitting out last season meant they lost a lot of their players on a free transfer and, as expected, recruiting players for this season was a tough task. Being placed in the Island Conference, arguably the tougher of the 2, meant qualification was always going to be hard but they made it look easy. A strong 6-game unbeaten run to start the season saw them 7pts clear in playoff contention and, while they finished with just 4pts from their final 4 games that included 2 losses and a draw, they had already done a large chunk of the needed job and could afford to jog their way into the playoff. It hasn’t been all rosy for Cubs FC, though. 9 goals in 10 games may have been enough to see them through into the playoff but it has been nowhere near impressive. Their 9 goals scored is below the league average of 9.5 goals per team (10 teams) and compared to other playoff teams, a bigger worry surfaces as it’s well below the 12.8 goals per team average (6 teams). However, Cubs FC can, perhaps, sleep easy knowing that of their 9 goals scored this season, 6 of them have come against Guns FC (4) and Saints FC (2), both of whom stand in their way to the finals. They face Guns FC in the Island Conference semi-finals and, having beaten them twice already this season, would feel confident heading into this tie.
Key Players: Frank Martin (@adioletsgo) & Adebayo Adeola (@deolabarthez) have been two of the best Cubs this season and their teammates would not disagree with this. For Frank Martin, he’s been one of the stand out midfielders in the league this season and is a shout to make the team of the season. Since missing both Matchday 1 games for Cubs against Alphas & All Black, Frank Martin has started 8 games in a row for Cubs and the industrious midfielder has led the team to a 2nd placed finish. Adebayo Adeola, on the other hand, has been in a class of his own. Not only does he save goals for his team, he also scores them. His 3 goals, the most by any Cubs player this season, has earned his team 7pts, not bad for a goal-keeper. Having already scored 1 goal & kept 1 clean-sheet against Guns and 1 goal against Saints, he’ll be very instrumental to Cubs’ chances of coming out from the Island.
Guns FC (League Position: 3rd)
Guns’ ‘surprise’ comeback on Matchday 7 may have been a surprise to those not entirely familiar with them but not Guns themselves. You won’t be entirely wrong to suggest that the belief in themselves came from a similar feat exactly a year ago. Prior to joining The SociaLiga, The Guns competed in the TPL and, last year, found themselves winless and in 7th (of 8) position on the log after 4 games, 5pts clear of the playoff zone with 3 games to go. They went back to the drawing board, re-strategized and won their remaining 3 games, finishing 3rd and making the playoff. Although they did go on to lose in the finals, the belief they could always overcome the odds stuck with them & they brought that with them to The SociaLiga. After a rocky first 6 Matchdays (8 games) which was mostly spent at the bottom end of the log, they came into the final day needing to end Saints’ 18-game unbeaten run and another 3 points against Knights who held the 3rd and final playoff spot for the previous 6 Matchdays (while hoping Knights drop points against Cubs in an earlier fixture). It’s no different from waiting on Nigeria’s qualification for a Nations Cup; calculators out, “what”, “if” & “maybe” flying around in every conversation, etc. The stars would align for Guns & they would go on to win both Saints & Knights (who drew with Cubs earlier) as they snatched the 3rd & playoff spot from Knights. Talk about a comeback! They face Cubs FC who they’ve lost twice to this season, a worry but not an impossible task.
Key Player: Gilbert Ekugbe (@gilbertekugbe). The man scored the goal to hand Saints their 1st loss since the 12th of June last year. He also scored the winning goal (against Knights) to send Guns into the playoffs. While the entire team deserves enormous praise for their incredible feat, there’s no denying that Gilbert Ekugbe is “dat guy”.
Head-To-Head Table Between Top 3