Goal poachers on the watchlist ahead new campaign

By Fisayo Dairo

Exactly seven months after the last ball was kicked in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), the new season will get underway in various cities across the country on Sunday, January 13, 2019. The movements, the action, the intrigues and most especially, the goals which have been missed by fans of the beautiful game in Nigeria will dominate every sphere once again.

When the new season kicks off on Sunday, three former winners of the NPFL’s highest goalscorer award will be among attackers that will be saddled with the responsibility of deciding games with their goals and bringing those shouts and chants which accompany the art of goalscoring to the lips of spectators at different venues.

As it is the norm in all parts of the world, teams have reinforced their playing staff ahead of the new season. The unwanted chaff from previous seasons have been weeded out while new brides are expected to emerge from the recruits ahead of what promises to be a very difficult though abridged season.

Here, npfl.ng takes a look at four categories of the players that a late Heartland coach Kelechi Emeteole once described as the “18-yard assassins.”

THE FORMER WINNERS

One of the headline transfers of the new season is that of former Enyimba striker Mfon Udoh who returned to his hometown club Akwa United after a largely successful five years in Aba. Udoh holds the NPFL goalscoring record in a single season after his 23-goal haul in 2014 and he is certainly one of the strikers that should give defenders plenty to think about this season.

While Udoh emerged as top scorer both in the NPFL and the CAF Champions League during his stay in Aba, the top-scoring honour currently belongs to Junior Sewanu Lokosa of Kano Pillars who scored a phenomenal 19 goals in 23 matches last term. Lokosa is a genuine fox-in-the-box whose goals do not look like drying up anytime soon. Should he hold off the lure of a move abroad this January, Lokosa will be a marked man in the league but that is when to really prove he is no fluke.

Godwin Obaje is another name in this category having won the top scorer’s gong in 2016 while with Wikki Tourists of Bauchi. The striker has now joined Plateau United from FC Ifeanyiubah where he spent the last two seasons. Obaje scored 14 goals in his debut season in Nnewi before scoring four more last term. In Jos, he has reunited with his former coach Abdu Maikaba under whom he blossomed at Wikki. It will surely not be out of place to expect good things from him.

THE RECENTLY CONSISTENT ONES

Quite a few players have seen their goalscoring return improve consistently in each of the past few seasons. One of such players is Ndifreke Effiong who just like Mfon Udoh has made the switch from Abia state to his hometown club, Akwa United. Effiong started out as a right-back in the league but has now completely metamorphosed into an attacker, scoring five goals in 2017 and eight goals last term. Time to see if he keeps to the arithmetic progression in Uyo.

Sunday Adetunji has joined Champions League campaigners Lobi Stars from Abia Warriors and the forward will be hoping to make his first full season since 2017 count. Adetunji had scored 14 goals in 2017 before a sorrowful shoulder injury on Matchday 33 ruled him out for the remainder of the season. He only came back to action late last season and scored four goals in his short stint with Enyimba in the Champions League and AITEO Cup.

Adetunji’s teammate at Lobi Stars Sikiru Alimi is also one to look out for in the new season if perhaps he remains with the side after the January transfer window. Having scored six league goals in 2017, Alimi stepped it up last term and had already scored seven goals before Matchday 24. This season, he has been instrumental to Lobi’s progress in the CAF Champions League where he has netted three goals in three matches.

Up north, Nyima Nwagua is another forward capable of adding more to his goalscoring tally with Kano Pillars this term. Nwagua proved to be a perfect foil for Lokosa last season while also scoring four goals on his own. The Rivers State-born forward no doubt has the talent and the physicality to be among the headliners in the upcoming season.

THE VETERAN CLUB

Bendel Insurance legend Charles Omokaro showed what he can still do at the NNL Super 8 playoff with two well-taken goals. The forward who also scored a handful during the regular NNL season last term will lead the veterans of war into the goalscoring battle this term.

Another veteran of note is David Tyavkase, a member of the 2003 & 2004 CAF Champions League winning side of Enyimba who still turns out for his hometown club Lobi Stars. Though the goals are drying up for the talented man, he scored twice last season and will be hoping to add more goals this term.

Kabiru Sanusi of Kada City, Gambo Mohammed of Kano Pillars, Adamu Muhammed of Gombe United are other veterans of the NPFL ready for this season’s action.

THE REST

All eyes will be on Enyimba forward Chinedu Udechukwu. The striker was missing from the league last season after scoring 11 goals for Katsina United and a failed move to Rivers United. Nasarawa United’s rising prospect Ikechukwu Nwani who scored five goals last term has looked increasingly sharp in pre-season and this might just be his season.

Victor Mbaoma might be disappointed with his goals return in the NPFL last term with Akwa United – five – but he will expect to do greater things with newly promoted Remo Stars, where he scored 10 goals in his debut NPFL season in 2017.

Osita Chikere was prominent for Rivers United on his return from abroad last season and will surely expect to score more than his four goals return this term. There is a certain Samuel Stone at Go Round who joined from Ikorodu United while Stephen Alfred and Samson Obi who scored nine goals each for Kwara United and Abia Warriors respectively last season will hope to do greater things in the league in 2019.