The 2019 TNM Super League title chase: A tale of two teams

By Hessie Ndevu

The People’s Team popped champagne on Sunday afternoon when they were crowned 2019 TNM Super League champions after collecting a point more than their bitter rivals, Mighty Be Forward Wanderers, who can only blame themselves after squandering a 7 point lead.

Bullets are Super League champions

Mighty Be Forward Wanderers Captain, Alfred Manyozo told the local media after his team’s 2-0 Super League loss to Blue Eagles on 3rd November in Lilongwe that it would be difficult for his team to catch their crosstown rival, Big Bullets who on same day, rose to the summit of the table by a point after beating Mzuzu University FC 3-2 at Kamuzu Stadium.

At that stage, there were still 7 more games to be played by both teams and Nomads supporters must have felt some resentment towards their on-field leader who should have been expressing optimism other than throwing in the towel with such a significant number of games yet to be played.

But true to Manyozo’s fears, despite mounting a gallant fight, Wanderers failed to dislodge Bullets who, painfully for the Lali Lubani faithful, managed to protect the 1 point lead with narrow wins throughout the 7 matches, with the winning goals in some of these matches coming against the run of play.

The finale of the “catch me if you can” series came on Sunday when Bullets, as expected, beat TN Stars by 2-0 at the Kamuzu Stadium while the Nomads also registered a 3-0 win at Civo Stadium against relegated Mlatho Mponela.

As Bullets players and fans were celebrating a 15th league crown in Blantyre, the Nomads were kicking themselves for surrendering a league race they led for an entire first round and a greater part of the second. In fact, since the first whistle of the campaign blew, the league had Wanderers’ name written all over it.

It can in fact, be said that the race was a tale of two clubs of contrasting fortunes with Wanderers seeming to have been pressing all the right buttons their Ndirande counterparts.

While Bullets indeed went into the season as defending champions, their new mentor, Zimbabwean Calisto Pasuwa was busy making changes to the league winning squad as he tried to instill his philosophy into the team.

The shakeup saw the gaffer putting his trust into rookies and less experienced players. Unbelievably, the likes of Chiukepo Msowoya, Sankhani Mkandawire, Yamikani Fodya, Fischer Kondowe, Bashir Maunde and the injured John Lanjesi were no longer first team players.

In the fold came debutants Charles Petro, Peter Banda, Hassan Kajoke and the versatile Chimwemwe Idana, who alongside other youngsters Mike Mkwate and Precious Sambani formed the core of Bullets’ first team.

Even though there was a blend of the young and old, with the likes of Chiukepo and Fischer being used as a super substitutes later in the campaign, it was unimaginable that such a largely inexperienced squad, that had not played and gelled together, could run away with the league. For many a Bullets fan, this was the heralding of a squad for the future.

But while Bullets were busy putting faint in the youth, the Nomads were busy breaking the bank, signing red hot Nigerian Striker Babatunde and midfielder Francis Mkonda from Masters Security to bolster their first team which already had experienced campaigners such as Alfred Manyozo, Stanley Sanudi, Fransic Mlimbika, Harry Nyirenda, Lucky Malata, Mike Kaziputa, Felix Zulu, Bongani Kaipa, Dzicco Mkanda and Isaac Kaliati. Of course they also added young blood in the likes of Fransisco Madinga and Vinicent Nyagulu but the core of the first team remained an experienced one as opposed to that of Bullets.

On the field, the Nomads even had a better start. At 14 games played in the first half, they had a 7 point advantage over Bullets after amassing 33 points to Bullets’ 26. Even though the second round was yet to be fully played, it was unimaginable that the inexperienced kids at Bullets would haul themselves from 6th Position to 1st, dislodging Nyerere who were flying high.

But fast forward to the last day of the season and Wanderers have still managed to pull a Liverpool 2017/2018 English Premier League season feat after failing to cope up with pressure in the second round. Their biggest mistakes; losing and drawing matches at home and losing away when it mattered the most.

Crucially, the Nomads failed to beat their rivals in the league in both legs at the Kamuzu Stadium, playing out goalless draws. In fact, the Nomads haven’t won a league game against Bullets in seven years.

Now, winning championship 101 tells us that to win a league, you must at least take points from your main rivals, something the Nomads have been failing to do. As a matter of fact, Wanderers failed to win against Bullets, Silver and Moyale, the top three teams, both at home and away. They drew with Bullets and Silver Strikers in both matches, lost at home and drew away against Moyale. That is not characteristics of a title winning squad.

In the second round, the Nomads drew with Bullets when they had a chance to take away 3 points from the People’s Team and go seven points clear. Still in the second round, the Nomads also drew against Silver strikers at home, dropping a total of 4 points when it mattered most.

On the other hand, Bullets won 8 of their 9 home matches in the second round drawing just once at home against Wanderers dropping just two points in the process. The Nomads won 4 of their 6 home matches and drew 2.

On the road, in the second round, Bullets won 6 of their 7 assignments drawing once on the road and again dropping just 2 points.

In contrast, the Nomads won 7 of their away fixtures but dropped 5 points on the road when they were held to a goalless draw by Moyale and lost to 0-2 to Blue Eagles, who achieved a league double over the Nomads, beating them 1-3 in a reverse fixture in the first round.

This means in the second round, Bullets dropped just 2 points from their home assignments and another 2 on the road while the Nomads dropped 4 points at home and 5 on the road. In total Bullets dropped 4 points the entire second round while the Nomads gave away 9. In any competitive league race, that difference is big enough to cost a team the time.

Various excuses might be given from Wanderers supporters and players on their botching up of the title. From quality of officiating to fixture planning that favored Bullets to play many home games in the second round to unfounded accusations of match fixing.

But truth be told, the Nomads had the league in their bag and cannot blame anyone for not doing what they themselves failed to do themselves; beating Bullets. Their over reliance on Babatunde, whose scoring boots went missing in second round also did not help matters.

But as the Nomads go back to the drawing board after being the “first loser” in this campaign, they must remember the three basics of winning a league title: Never lose home matches, never buckle under pressure and lastly but importantly never rely on others to do your job. In this campaign, they failed in all three aspects.