Plateau Utd, Olatunbosun’s wonder goal top NPFL list in 2017
The year 2017 in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) served up thrilling moments and some exciting numbers in good and bad stead for clubs and players.
The big guns predicted to take the reins forced some of the league’s top pundits to sing the praises of Plateau United and MFM like rats abandoning a sinking ship.
League champions Plateau United simply ticked all the right boxes to win their first title in their 41 years of existence – they occupied top spot for 34 matchdays; they remained in top spot for 141 calendar days consecutively; and stayed in top spot for an overall total of 199 calendar days.
The season also had a landmark mention on the field of play as Sikiru Olatunbosun’s super strike against Rangers earned rave reviews across the world. It was subsequently voted CNN Goal of the Week ahead of goals by AS Roma’s Radja Nainggolan, Joey Jones of Woking FC and Youri Tielemans of RSC Anderlecht.
As the countdown to a New Year begins, NPFL.ng relives events on the field of play of the past season, month by month till the final day.
The NPFL season for 2017 kicked off on 14 January with Kano Pillars versus FC Ifeanyiubah setting the tone for the campaign at the Sani Abacha Stadium. Unfortunately, the contest was abandoned just midway into the game as FC Ifeanyiubah refused to continue the match on grounds that Foluso Ajayi made a wrong call. Subsequently the Nnewi club forfeited three points and three goals to Kano Pillars.
The opening day went on to produce interesting outcomes with title holders Rangers losing at home in an Oriental Derby to Abia Warriors (1-2) and Plateau United handing new boys Remo Stars an unpleasant start to their first appearance in top-flight football.
Plateau United finished January top of the pile without losing a game, a feat only matched by Rivers United. Plateau United picked 13 out of the 15 points available in January, three better than MFM FC. However it was MFM forward Stephen Odey who hogged the headlines for individual brilliance scoring four goals in four appearances and created a goal too.
This month began on a listless note. The first matchday in February produced 13 goals in 10 games with 11 clubs being responsible for the goals. El-Kanemi Warriors went on to finish the month on a high taking 12 points out of 15 with Kano Pillars finishing unbeaten after playing just three games due to rescheduled fixtures involving teams in CAF club competitions.
New boys Remo Stars and Rivers United did not win any game in February. Top performer of the month was Abia Warriors striker Sunday Adetunji who scored all of his team’s four goals in five matches including two of the goals on the road at Akwa United and Nasarawa United.
But February will be remembered in the NPFL for a long time to come for Sikiru Olatunbosun’s eye-catching goal. On 24 February, the MFM winger with the help of his teammates, Onuwa Chukwuka, Odey and co, scored a goal that would later be nominated for CNN Goal of the Week.
In March, Olatunbosun’s wonder goal against Rangers was voted CNN Goal of the Week and this was followed up by Odey’s free-scoring performance. Odey netted seven of MFM’s 10 goals in March. His goal helped the Olukoya Boys pick the most points (14) in March.
At the same time, MFM got into top spot at the end of March with 30 points, one more than Plateau United. That was one of the four times the Lagos club occupied top spot last season.
After a stuttering to the campaign, Abdu Maikaba’s Akwa United began to live up to their epithet of The Promise Keepers as they quickly won popular acclaim among faithful of the top division. Akwa United won all of their three matches in April including a 1-0 success at four-time champions Kano Pillars – it was no April Fool’s Day prank.
In the heart of their sterling performance was Alhassan ‘Muazzam’ Ibrahim. He provided the assist for the winner at the Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano after an earlier hattrick that secured a 4-2 win over 3SC that month. He scored four goals that month.
Also, Lobi Stars striker Anthony Okpotu scored a hattrick in their 3-1 win over Sunshine Stars.
Title-holders Rangers played out their outstanding fixtures after their continental exertions came to a disappointing halt. They won two, drew one out of four league games in May to pick seven points, the most for the month that had fewer league matchdays.
Akwa United, FC Ifeanyiubah and Lobi Stars were the only sides that ended the month of May unbeaten.
The month of May was also painted red. Rivers United captain Festus Austine, Austin Oladapo of Gombe United, Afeez Aremu of Akwa United, Bright Onyedikachi of FC Ifeanyiubah and ABS FC left-back Ebuka Anaekwe were all sent off for different offences.
It was the turn of Kano Pillars to find their mojo in June. The former champions at this time under Ibrahim Musa as manager cruised to three wins and two draws in five games as they garnered 11 points in the month – the highest by any team. In the centre of that feat were two new signings Nyima Nwagua and Junior Lokosa, acquired from Lobi and First Bank FC respectively in mid-season. Both men contributed five goals while Nwagua scored the fastest goal of the season in 10 seconds in their 3-1 win over Sunshine Stars.
In the same month, Okpotu bagged another hattrick as he scored all of Lobi’s goals in their 3-1 victory against MFM FC at the Aper Aku Stadium in Makurdi.
As at the end of July, Plateau United still had their grip on top spot but it was Sunshine Stars’ display that caught the attention of everyone following the arrival of ex-international Duke Udi on a rescue mission the previous month following the departure of another colleague in Austine Eguavoen.
Pick of the games in July was the seesaw contest at the Kwara Sports Stadium in Ilorin where Sunshine Stars defied the odds against them to embarrass ABS 4-2 in front of their fans. It was a clearly virtuoso performance by the Akure Gunners – an attacking masterclass in which the quartet of Sikiru Alimi, Ajibola Otegbeye, Abiodun Joseph, Ezekiel Thompson and their teammates played at frenetic pace and without handbrakes.
Apart from Sunshine Stars claiming 12 points that month, only rivalled by MFM, there was the audacious strike from the centre circle by Victor Chidume of Remo Stars in another exciting game that produced five goals which Lobi edged by one.
By the end of August, it was just two rounds of matches to go and Plateau United held a four-point lead at the top of the pile and a +23 goals difference. It was looking like MFM in second place on 59 points and a zero goal difference will need a miracle to dislodge the Jos club and deny them a first-ever league title.
However, the top-two did not even finish in the top half of the rankings for games in August. Outgoing champions Rangers were still looking over their shoulders in the race for survival and they revved their machines into last burst of fire to go unbeaten in four matches in August, including adding to woes of Remo Stars with a 2-1 win on the road. The Flying Antelopes finished the month on 10 points, one more than their Oriental rivals Abia Warriors while leaders Plateau United and second-placed MFM managed five and four points respectively.
At this point, Remo Stars were already relegated to the second tier, the Nigeria National League (NNL) and the coming and final month will determine the three other clubs to join them in the lower division.
The decision month arrived with huge expectations and fright at the same time for the 20 clubs. None of the clubs in the race for the title and survival were ready to lay die and down. On Matchday 37, relegated Remo Stars were ran over three-nil at Katsina United and that represented their 13th straight game of the season without a win.
At the top of the table, MFM trimmed Plateau United’s lead to just one point after the leaders suffered a 1-0 defeat at Wikki Tourists. That defeat put the title dreams of the Jos club on ice and meant that the title race would go down to the wire after MFM dispatched Nasarawa United 2-0 through goals from Stanley Okorom and Tchato Giscard.
A 3-0 defeat for Gombe United at Rivers United meant they joined Remo Stars as the relegated sides. Now it was down to two teams to go.
It was a three-way battle on the final day for the title, continental places and survival race. For the first time in the history of the top division, the games involving the title race were broadcast live on national TV, NTA and cable TV, SuperSport, simultaneously.
Second-placed MFM still had the intestinal fortitude of a marathon runner to upset the applecart with a very tough trip to Maiduguri to face El-Kanemi Warriors while Plateau United, already tipped by pundits to win the league, welcomed outgoing champions Rangers. Only one point separated the top-two. Plateau United defeated Rangers 2-0 to win the title as MFM’s last-gasp attempt to unseat the Jos club ended with a 2-1 loss at El-Kanemi.
Stephen Chukwude’s goal helped Enyimba nick a top-three place to claim a CAF Confederation Cup to render Akwa United’s best attempt of a 3-0 win over Kano Pillars to squeeze into the top-three all but purposeless.
Former champions Shooting Stars Sports Club (3SC) and ABS joined Gombe United and Remo Stars as clubs that were relegated to the second tier after 380 matches, concluding in 346 calendar days.