Lobi look to maintain top spot, El-Kanemi bid to move up
By George Akpayen
Table-toppers Lobi Stars could remain at the summit of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) for another matchday should they avoid defeat at Nasarawa United in a Middle Belt Derby at the Lafia City Stadium this Sunday while Imama Amapakabo will look to rally his El-Kanemi troops to improve their standing.
It is a crucial game that will have an effect on the standings at both ends of the league table by the end of Monday when Kano Pillars play hosts to Niger Tornadoes.
For Nasarawa United, the three points are as important in their bid to move further away from the drop zone as they currently sit just two places above the bottom-four only by superior goal difference. The Solid Miners are also in a wretched form guide, winning just once in their last five league matches.
However table-topping Lobi Stars have not had any reason for joy at Nasarawa United in their last four travels there – they have lost in all of those four trips. When Lobi file out to face the Solid Miners on Sunday, it will be 1,785 days since they avoided defeat last in this fixture when they played out a 1-1 draw in April 2013.
Lobi head coach Solomon Ogbeide believes there is always an opportunity to end such unimpressive streak as they have been able to secure wins at Rangers and Heartland, and are currently on a four-game unbeaten sequence.
“This is football. Anything can happen so we will go there and take our chance. Remember records are meant to broken or equalled, or brought to an end,” said Ogbeide to npfl.ng.
Third from bottom El-Kanemi play hosts to FC Ifeanyiubah in Maiduguri. El-Kanemi are unbeaten in their last 38 home matches. It would be a return FC Ifeanyiubah head coach Ladan Bosso who left the Maiduguri club before the start of this season to move southwards.
The Anambra Warriors make the trip to Maiduguri on the back of no points so far on the road this season.
Abia Warriors can move above Wikki Tourists and possibly into the top-half of the table if they defeat the Bauchi club at the Umuahia Township Stadium this Sunday. Abia Warriors have relied on Ndifreke Effiong and Samson Obi for their goals. Both men have accounted for eight of their nine goals this season and Wikki will know the men to focus attention on.
Nafiu Bala Kabuga has been shouldering the responsibility of goalscoring for Wikki and last weekend he netted the first hat-trick of the season when they saw off Rivers United 3-0 at the New Jos Stadium.
Only Kano Pillars stand a realistic chance of moving into top spot if Lobi fail to avoid defeat at Nasarawa United and they defeat Niger Tornadoes on Monday. The four-time champions last Sunday fell 0-2 at Yobe Desert Stars, putting up a lacklustre performance with leading scorer Junior Lokosa absent due to illness.
Lokosa is in line to make a return against Tornadoes who have taken a point on the road so far.
Katsina United have been strong at their Muhammadu Dikko Stadium, winning their last four home games with plus two goals. Abdullahi Biffo’s men have also not conceded in 389 league matches since their opening day 2-2 draw with Kano Pillars. They play hosts to Heartland.
Heartland, on the other hand, will go into this contest on the back of a three-nil defeat which prompted a dramatic statement from their head coach Ramson Madu who claimed his players failed him and alleged his playing personnel has been hijacked by external forces. But he will put all that aside and hope to guide his team to a decent result where the like of fellow Oriental rivals Enyimba and FC Ifeanyiubah have suffered defeats.
In Akure, Sunshine Stars who directed their head coach Duke Udi to step down during the week with their technical director Henry Abiodun taking charge will face Yobe Desert Stars.