Title hopefuls in touch-and-go Matchday 22 contests

By George Akpayen

Title-chasing sides Lobi Stars, Plateau United, Kano Pillars, Rangers and Akwa United will have their hands full this matchday against feisty oppositions who are also looking to put points on the board to improve their stands in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) this season.

On Sunday, seven matches are on offer including what many pundits now bill as the top clash of the matchweek between table-toppers Lobi Stars and seven-time champions Rangers scheduled for the Aper Aku Stadium in Makurdi.

Champions Plateau United travel to Port Harcourt to face Rivers United while Kano Pillars play at Nasarawa United. On Wednesday, it would be the turn of Akwa United to play hosts to new boys Go Round.

Nine games in all will take place this matchday with Heartland versus Enyimba postponed.

RANGERS SEEK FIRST POINT AT LOBI IN 12 YEARS

Former champions Rangers in sixth place are seven points behind the leaders Lobi who they face this Sunday. The Flying Antelopes could also suffer a first double defeat to Lobi who won the first meeting in Enugu 2-1 and the record of Rangers at the Aper Aku, or wherever Lobi have played at home has been wretched.

Rangers have been defeated in their last 10 matches at Lobi. The last time they avoided defeat in this fixture was November 16, 2005 which will be exactly 12 years, six months and three days when both teams meet on Sunday. Gbenga Ogunbote does have an impressive playing personnel in Kelvin Itoya, Bright Silas, Godwin Aguda, Ifeanyi George, Christian Madu and goalkeeper Femi Thomas but they face an equally fired up side in Lobi who hoping to land a first title in 19 years.

KANO PILLARS, PLATEAU UNITED FACE SLIPPERY SLOPE

Kano Pillars and Plateau United are up for matches that represent banana peel on their route to challenging for the title.

Plateau United will fancy leaving Port Harcourt with a result against Rivers United who have failed to win in their last four outings. Last season the champions did grind out a 0-0 outcome en route to winning the title. Kennedy Boboye and his men will be buoyed by that result for this clash.

Pillars will make more than 500 kilometres to Lafia where they play against Nasarawa United with the hope of getting a first away win. Draws at Heartland, Wikki, Rangers, Sunshine Stars, El-Kanemi and Katsina United as well as an eight-game undefeated sequence have only left them trailing Lobi.

The Kano club head coach Ibrahim Musa acknowledged that his team have missed the window on a few occasions to win on the road, citing the 1-1 draw at Heartland and the 2-2 draw at Katsina United such. Musa is still optimistic Kano Pillars can pull off that first win though he was not particular about the game in Lafia.

“We have prepared well for the game in Lafia. It is a game we expect to be very tough because Nasarawa United have been strong in their recent matches. At the same time, we know that we need to keep focus in these games so that we can win away after we missed the chance against Heartland and even at Katsina United. But I am confident we will win away games,” Musa said.

LOKOSA MISSING IN ACTION

For the trip to Lafia, Musa will have to plan without the league’s leading scorer Junior Lokosa who is reportedly out of the country to seal a contract with a club abroad. Kano Pillars could be in a long haul without their most potent target man as he is due to join up with the Super Eagles for the final camping phase of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

But Kano Pillars have the like of Nyima Nwagua, Adamu Hassan and the experienced Gambo Mohammed to turn to in the absence of the freescoring Lokosa.

AKWA UNITED AIM TO RETURN TO WINNING WAYS

Akwa United’s worry will not be about Lokosa’s absence or presence but putting an end to their winless spell of five matches. It is expected that Abdu Maikaba will be back in the dugout after his deputy Aliyu Zubair played a caretaker role while he was away on duty with the Nigerian Under-20s in Guinea-Bissau.

So when Akwa United play hosts to Go Round on Wednesday two things will be uppermost on their minds — put the new boys in their place and end a winless run that will have reached a month and a day.

However it is not just the title hopefuls who are involved in this matchday. Five other games are also on offer including a Monday evening match at the Umuahia Township Stadium between Abia Warriors and El-Kanemi Warriors.

MFM FC who could be sucked into the troubled zone of the standings play on the road to Kwara United after their disappointing home loss to Abia Warriors last weekend while Katsina United play hosts to Sunshine Stars.

FC Ifeanyiubah and Wikki Tourists play at home against Niger Tornadoes and Yobe Stars respectively.