Battle on all fronts as NPFL 2020/21 Season Ends

By Fisayo Dairo

From top to bottom, there is still plenty to play for on the final day of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) 2020/2021 this Thursday.

Although Akwa United have officially been coronated as the league champions while basement side Adamawa United and FC Ifeanyiubah had long confirmed their relegation status, there remains continental places and top flight spots still up for grabs.

There are ten matches slated for ten different venues on Thursday and eight of them have important ramifications on who gets what at the end of the day’s action. Only the champions Akwa United’s visit to Lobi Stars and Rangers’ home tie with Plateau United can be classified as dead rubber on the final day.

Continental spots and relegation places intertwined

As at mid-season, newly crowned Akwa United were 3rd on the log but Nasarawa United were placed 7th. It is then remarkable that the Solid Miners have shot themselves up to the 2nd position after a series of hugely impressive performances, spearheaded by league’s joint top scorer Silas Nwankwo.

It all comes down to the final day though as Nasarawa United face a tricky trip to Abia Warriors who need to get a result in Okigwe to be assured of their NPFL status for next season. Reputable match arbiter Ferdinand Udoh has been placed in charge of what promises to be a highly charged encounter.

Kano Pillars are currently 3rd on the log but must shove aside their recent dire form on the road should they aspire to hold on to the final continental spot on the log. Pillars have lost each of their last six away games but need a win at Heartland that although are not mathematically safe, are realistically safe regardless of what the “sporting” results are on Sunday.

Pillars are followed on the log by Rivers United and Enyimba, the two neighbours that were locked in a Points Per Game (PPG) battle at the end of last season; both have same number of points and both sides will be on the road on the final day of the season.

Rivers United face the more daunting trip to Sunshine Stars that badly need a win to have hopes of escaping demotion to Nigeria’s second tier after over a decade of stay in the top flight. Sunshine do not have their destiny in their own hands still as they hope other results go their way after they might have won.

Former Champions Enyimba looked to have blown a glorious chance of finishing in the top three in their 1-1 draw at home to Sunshine Stars on Monday. The People’s Elephant, coached by Fatai Osho have a second and final chance though when they face Dakkada FC who have nothing to play for in Uyo on Thursday.

Kwara United, currently in 6th can profit for any unplanned slip by the four teams ahead of them should they beat Katsina United in Ilorin. Abdullahi Biffo’s side have a healthy goals difference to bank on should any of the aforementioned four fail to do the business in their away games.

Make or Mar relegation contests

With two relegation spots already taken – by Adamawa United and FC Ifeanyiubah – Warri Wolves, Jigawa Golden Stars and Wikki Tourists are the other contestants (aside Sunshine Stars) for the unwanted remaining spots in the ever dramatic Nigeria National League (NNL) next season.

Wolves are away to FC Ifeanyiubah in Nnewi and will fancy their chances of claiming all three points against the 19th placed side that have however remained unbeaten at home (in Nnewi) since MatchDay 3. Wolves will also hope they are done huge favours by Southern rivals Rivers United in their trip to Sunshine Stars.

MFM FC are safe and away from troubled waters but they have the responsibility of determining the fate of Jigawa Golden Stars that pay them a visit to the Soccer Temple in Agege. Any result short of a win for Jigawa may spell doom for the team and will bring back memories of 2003 to current head coach Gilbert Opana who was also their coach 18 years ago when they were relegated to the then Pro League.

Wikki Tourists have a straight forward and easy-on-the-eye task on the final day. They are currently hovering above the relegation zone only on goals difference but they face bottom placed Adamawa United in Bauchi with a simple task: win and stay in the NPFL.

Matters not catered for

Nasarawa United striker Silas Nwankwo and Akwa United forward Charles Atshimene are locked neck on neck at the top scorers chart and will be looking to move clear of each other on the final day.

Both players have 18 goals after impressive league campaigns and are on the road on the final day of the season, to make their task more daunting. Nwankwo will also hope to help his side get a result in Okigwe against Abia Warriors which would be good enough for a continental finish while Atshimene would hope that he gets the extra goal in a dead rubber match against Lobi Stars in Makurdi.

Match Day 38 Fixtures

MFM FC v Jigawa GS
Lobi Stars v Akwa Utd
Sunshine Stars v Rivers Utd
Dakkada v Enyimba
Rangers v Plateau Utd
Abia Warriors v Nasarawa Utd
Kwara Utd v Katsina Utd
Wikki Tourist v Adamawa Utd
Heartland v Kano Pillars
FCIU v Warri Wolves