CLUB NEWS

NPFL enters deep end of business for title & survival battles

By Victor Modo

For 32 matchdays, clubs in the NPFL have done battle in one of the most competitive seasons in the history of the Nigerian game. With six matchdays to go, the league title, continental places and survival race have all 20 clubs strapped in and ready to do battle.

At the top of the table, Plateau United (with 58 points) in first position is separated from Enyimba International (with 50 points) in fourth place by eight points. MFM FC (on 55 points) and Akwa United (with 51 points) occupying second and third slots respectively.

 

Keen league observers have had their money on Plateau United to buckle under the pressure of blazing the trail since the turn of the second stanza, but pulling a Leicester City from their hat, they have remained resolute, blowing away opposition teams at times and grinding it out for the odd point to stay ahead on other times.

From relegation waters at the close of last season to the door of the Promised Land this season, MFM FC have successfully turned their story around in this campaign. Believed to be title pretenders, MFM FC have been unstoppable at the Agege Stadium this season, failing to pick maximum points only on one occasion, the visit of Akwa United. The trio of Chukwuka Onuwa, Stephen Odey and Sikiru Olatunbosun have formed a partnership that has dragged the team forward this term and placed them on the steps of history, dependent on a Plateau United implosion.

Akwa United started the campaign slowly but have steadily worked their way up the ladder and are sitting comfortably in third position, with analysts expecting them to leapfrog MFM FC into second by the close of the campaign. Abdu Maikaba and his boys have built a reputation of fine football this term, outclassing several teams with intricate interchange of passes that at times leave their markers stuck in the middle of a 'Rondo' knock around.

They however are worst hit by the CHAN invitations, with four of their starters called up to the Super Eagles. This is a testament to their fine form this season, but can also be the unraveling point of their season.

Enyimba International, one of the most decorated teams of the modern day Nigerian game are in fourth place, a point below Akwa United in third, a point above El-Kanemi Warriors in fifth and three points above Nasarawa United in sixth. A fine run of form at the end of the season will see Enyimba cement their continental slot, and mathematically challenge for the title. This fine run of form however must start on Sunday away to second-placed MFM FC who will be looking to keep tabs on Plateau at the top of the table.

El-Kanemi Warriors (on 49 points), Nasarawa United, FC Ifeanyiubah and Lobi Stars (all tied on 47 points) have the top-three positions in their sights, with a slip-up from the present occupants allowing any of them, well all of them actually, a chance to creep in and nick the available continental places.

Mathematically, no team in the NPFL is relegated, however the Nigeria National League (NNL) seems to have reached out into the NPFL and is dragging Remo Stars (with 29 points) and Gombe United (on 37 points) back down with it.

Other teams currently occupying the relegation places include ABS FC and Shooting Stars Sports Club (both on 40 points), with Rivers United and Abia Warriors (both on 41 points) and practically every team in the lower half looking nervously over their shoulders.

Glory beckons on one end of the table, the gloom of life in the NNL beckons on the other end of the table. The battle to lift the trophy, qualify for Caf competitions and battle to avoid the drop will take centre stage from Matchday 33, with teams looking to maintain momentum and others looking to build momentum. Matchdays 33 to 38 remain finely-poised on a knife's edge, cranking excitement up a notch or two with the promise of battles on grass and the thrill of a fight to the finish.

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