Struggling sides scramble for lifelines ahead halfway mark
By George Akpayen
The clubs occupying the bottom-seven in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) are all in the running to ease their worries this Sunday when the season edges ever more closer to the halfway point.
Kwara United, El-Kanemi Warriors, Heartland, Sunshine Stars, Go Round FC, Nasarawa United and Wikki Tourists are all in the bottom-seven and will be up for big tests especially with most of the big hitters out of action owing to CAF club engagement for Akwa United, Enyimba, MFM FC and champions Plateau United.
Two of the top-three sides will not be involved in this Sunday’s matchday. Table-toppers Lobi Stars and Kano Pillars have had their matches against Plateau United and Akwa United respectively have been postponed.
So bottom-placed Kwara United head to the southeast to face seven-time winners Rangers who start the matchday in ninth position and a win could see them jump into third depending on the outcome elsewhere. The Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium has not been a favourable place of visit for Kwara United in recent seasons as they have suffered defeats in their last seven trips to Enugu.
However Rangers faithful will be wary of the fact that the last time Kwara United head coach Abubakar Bala made the trip to Enugu with Niger Tornadoes, he led them to a 1-1 draw last season when Chidiebere Ajoku’s goal levelled matters after Godwin Aguda had scored earlier. Interestingly Bala is still unbeaten since he took charge at Kwara United after John Obuh left.
Two of the bottom-four sides, El-Kanemi Warriors and Heartland, go head-to-head in Maiduguri in a six-pointer. Heartland just brought in a Turkish coach Mehmet Taykun to salvage their season as the campaign nears the halfway, and this could be his first outing.
It is going to be a difficult trip for the Naze Millionaires as El-Kanemi have remained unbeaten in 39 NPFL home matches since a 3-1 defeat to Akwa United on March 30, 2016. Heartland will fancy their chances despite El-Kanemi’s intimidating home form which has come under scrutiny with Kano Pillars, Enyimba and Niger Tornadoes sharing points at the El-Kanemi Sports Stadium.
New boys Go Round face the in-form Niger Tornadoes. ‘Dare The Lions’ will have the burden of bringing to a halt the unbeaten sequence of Tornadoes which stands at six [4W 2D]. Go Round have dropped just four points in 21 at home this season and will want to continue that run to help push them further away from the dreaded bottom-four. The newcomers now have Tornadoes to contend with as they seek only their sixth in the NPFL.
In Akure, fourth from bottom Sunshine Stars play hosts to Wikki who are also looking over their shoulders as they hold just three points above the bottom-four. Sunshine Stars have managed a win percentage of 38 per cent so far and have not won in their last three league matches. For Wikki, their quest for a first point on the road will continue at a venue where they have lost their last six trips.
Nasarawa United continue to find themselves at the bottom half of the standings and will seek to improve that when they go up against Rivers United at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium in Port Harcourt. Rivers United have always won this fixture since 2005 when they were known as Dolphins FC, and their faithful will expect that good form will not change now. Nasarawa United are still seeking for a first point on the road.
It has been a period of good spell for Abia Warriors as they are unbeaten in their last six matches [2W 4D]. Emmanuel Deutsch and his men will look to stretch it to seven with the freescoring pair of Samson Obi and Ndifreke Effiong.
The match will also be a special moment for Katsina United head coach Abdullahi Biffo who returns to face his old employers at the Umuahia Township Stadium. Biffo’s men, for all of their depth in playing personnel with the like of Destiny Ashadi, Martins Usule, Eric Dufegha, Tasiu Lawal and Usman Barau, have only been imperious at home and only managed a point on the road.