Fight for top spot takes centre stage

By George Akpayen

The Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) continues this Sunday with a busy and packed schedule as all 10 matches hold on same day across the country with clubs looking to improving their standings on the ranking.

Lobi Stars have now kept a grip on top spot for two matchdays on the bounce despite a 2-1 reverse at Nasarawa United where they took the lead through Austine Ogunye before an inspired performance by Ikechukwu William Nwani who scored one and provided the assist for Najeem Olukokun’s goal helped the Solid Miners come from behind to win.

Just a point now separates Lobi from the chasing pack and they play hosts to Rivers United who have lost all of their last 12 visits in this fixture including when their days as Dolphins. But Lobi head coach Solomon Ogbeide believes that piece of history will count for nothing.

“That is history. It is good for us psychologically but at the same time we need to stay focused and not get carried away that we have always beaten them in this fixture. But we will give our best to win this because we want to stay top of the table after Sunday,” Ogbeide told npfl.ng.

Lobi will be without last season’s top scorer Anthony Okpotu who begins a three-match ban following a straight red card in their last league game at Nasarawa United.

THE CHASING PACK

Akwa United, Kano Pillars, Plateau United and interestingly, one of the promoted sides Yobe Desert Stars on the heels of Lobi. Any slip up by the Makurdi club and better results for Akwa United and Kano Pillars especially will mean they will be toppled from the top spot.

The Promise Keepers play hosts to Abia Warriors in only their ninth NPFL meeting. Akwa United have managed only two wins in previous each clashes to Abia Warriors’ three including a 2-1 win in this fixture in April 2016. It is expected that the Akwa United – Abia Warriors matchup will be a lively contest with the like of Victor Mbaoma, Ubong Friday, Cyril Olisema and Kelly Kester starring for Akwa against the freescoring duo of Samson Obi and Ndifreke Effiong for Abia Warriors.

Title-holders Plateau United and Kano Pillars have tricky contests on the road at bottom-four sides FC Ifeanyiubah and Kwara United respectively.

Plateau United will hope they can avoid a third straight defeat on the road after losses at Niger Tornadoes and Go Round. On the other hand, FC Ifeanyiubah are in dire need of a win to end their poor streak of no wins in their last three matches to ease their worries at the foot of the standings.

Pillars head coach Ibrahim Musa knows his men wil have to be on top of their game against Kwara United under the watch of former Niger Tornadoes Abubakar Bala. “We are not expecting an easy game in Ilorin. They have struggled this season but they will not make it easy so I have told my players to be prepared for a difficult game as they now have coach and their players will want to impress him,” said Musa.

HEARTLAND & KWARA UNITED START LIFE WITH NEW COACHES

Talking of changes in guard in the dugout, Heartland and Kwara United are among the latest to hire new head coaches in Ezekiel Onyegbulem and Bala respectively. Both men now have the tasks of steering the ship of the two clubs out of troubled waters starting from this matchday.

Bala and his men face four-time champions Kano Pillars while Onyegbulem takes his first bow in charge at Heartland when Nasarawa United come visiting the Dan Anyiam Stadium in Owerri this Sunday. Surely nothing short of victories from the two men will please the supporters of their clubs.

SCRAMBLE AT THE BASE

The bottom-four clubs, Wikki Tourists, FC Ifeanyiubah, Heartland and Kwara United play at home this Sunday. Bottom-placed Kwara United are five points away from safety and will be keen to trip Pillars at the Kwara State Sports Stadium to ease their struggles this season. The Harmony Boys are on a four-match run without a win.

Wikki will face El-Kanemi Warriors in the northeast derby which will be live on national television, NTA from 4pm. This derby will hold at the New Jos Stadium and El-Kanemi could get themselves sucked into the bottom-four if they suffer defeat.

Other fixtures of Matchday 14 have MFM FC versus Katsina United at the Agege Stadium where the Olukoya Boys will hope to banish the humiliating six-nil episode in the CAF Champions League at MC Alger.

Record champions of the NPFL, Enyimba and Rangers play on the road against promoted sides Yobe Stars and Go Round while Niger Tornadoes play hosts to Sunshine Stars.