NPFL Matchday 15 preview: Tough battles for top and low spots
By George Akpayen
The Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) season continues this Wednesday with Matchday 15 games and the big focus will be the six-pointer between struggling sides Sunshine Stars and basement boys Kwara United.
As expected, there will be significant interest at the other end of the standings with table-toppers Lobi Stars playing on the road at Abia Warriors and four-time champions Kano Pillars playing hosts to former Cup champions FC Ifeanyiubah at the Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano.
BATTLE OF STRUGGLING SIDES
Bottom-three in the division, Sunshine Stars and Kwara United go head-to-head in this clash at the Akure Stadium. It is the first time both teams will meet in the NPFL since September 2015 after Kwara United made a return to the division from the second tier.
Kwara United have had to part ways with former U20 coach John Obuh as he appeared to be marching to the beat of a different drum, and they brought in Abubakar Bala who got off to a winning start against Kano Pillars though the Harmony Boys had to work their socks off to win 2-1 with Lukman Binuyo in the heart of inspiring that comeback.
However the trip to troubled Sunshine Stars comes on the back of their poor run against the Akure. Sunshine Stars have not lost in their last five meetings with Kwara United since a 1-0 loss in Ilorin in May 2012 [3W 2D].
Kwara United have had to rely heavily on Stephen Alfred for goals with their last season leading scorer in he second tier Michael Ohanu still struggling to find his feet in the top division so far. The story is different for Sunshine Stars who have quite a decent spread of goalscorers in Sikiru Alimi, Bala Yahuza and Abiodun Joseph who has been directly involved in four goals including providing three assists.
The Akure club are already tipped as favourites by pundits but Bala’s presence on the sidelines could spur on the Harmony Boys to end their long wait for a first NPFL win over Sunshine Stars in five years, 10 months and 12 days.
BANANA PEEL FOR TABLE-TOPPERS?
At the top of the pile, Lobi Stars appear to be sitting comfortable with second-placed Akwa United saddled with CAF Confederation Cup duty. Champions Plateau United, MFM FC and seven-time champions Enyimba are also busy this week with games in Africa.
So Lobi head to the southeast where they have been beaten Heartland and Rangers. The two wins represent their total away wins so far this season which is the most by any team in the division. Abia Warriors are a different proposition having sewn together a four-match unbeaten sequence and have the deadliest strike partnership in Samson Obi and Ndifreke Effiong that has scored 11 of their 12 goals this season.
Lobi have lost all of their last four trips to Umuahia but wil hope their fine run this season against Oriental clubs continue.
LOKOSA LOOKS TO CONTINUE RED-HOT FORM
Leading scorer Junior Lokosa will be at the centre of spearheading Kano Pillars’ chase on Lobi when they play hosts to FC Ifeanyiubah on Wednesday. With 12 goals in 13 appearances, Lokosa is the hottest man in the country at the moment and the odds that he will get among the goals remain higher ahead of this matchday.
Lokosa is a man on a mission and keeps delivering the goods for his club though the last time out at Kwara United his goal proved insufficient in their 2-1 defeat at the Kwara State Sports Complex in Ilorin.
Three other matches will take place this gameweek in Port Harcourt, Enugu and Lafia. Rivers United play at home against fourth-from-bottom Heartland while seven-time champions Rangers go up against the highest-placed promoted side Yobe Stars.
At the Lafia City Stadium, Nasarawa United will hope they can improve their standing in the log against sixth-placed Katsina United.