NPFL opening matchday produces stunning unwritten script
By George Akpayen
Matchday 1 of this season’s Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) has left many astounded and served a few the humble pie after the big guns barely struggled to cross the line and two of the title hopeful faltering on home soil.
It was not the usual win-at-home outcome which many had expected before kickoff of the new season as Akwa United and Plateau United could not breach their opponents and four-time champions Kano Pillars just managed to edge Heartland at the Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano.
Perhaps only Enyimba put up a show worthy of being seven-time champions on the day as they cruised to a comfortable 2-0 victory at the Enyimba International Stadium in Aba on Sunday.
Pundits before the kickoff envisaged a stroll in the park of some sorts for the like of Akwa United and Plateau United considering the fact that they were active in the transfer window but two of the clubs tipped to challenge for the title this term suffered setbacks.
EL-KANEMI STUN AKWA AT NEST OF CHAMPIONS
At the Nest of Champions, Akwa United’s matchday squad looked like they would keep the promise of an opening day win as El-Kanemi Warriors had lost the like of Samuel Mathias and Otakho Aghahowa in the transfer.
The Promise Keepers, on the other hand, hired Brazilian trainer Rafael Everton as head coach who brought along his countryman and midfelder Alberico da Silva. In their matchday squad they also had new recruits Juwon Oshaniwa, Mfon Udoh, Ndifreke Effiong, Emeka Atuloma and Ocheme Edoh, and these names were expected to strike fear into their opponents from the southeast.
Mohammed BabaGanaru’s men had other ideas and held on till the fourth minute of added time when Ba’akaka Ajikolo who had only been on the pitch for only nine minutes after replacing Ali Aliyu scored after Akwa goalkeeper Olorunleke Ojo’s pocket was picked as he tried to ape Colombian maverick goalkeeper Rene Higuita. Akwa paid the price for failing to convert their chances and playing a highline at the death.
MAIKABA STILL CANNOT MANAGE A WIN OVER FC IFEANYIUBAH
Immediate past Akwa United head coach Abdu Maikaba did not enjoy a good start either as he began his reign at Plateau United by dropping two points against FC Ifeanyiubah who had an unrecognizable startlist except for captain Chijioke Alaekwe and goalkeeper Chinedu Anozie.
Plateau United’s playing personnel looked intimidating with goalkeeper Dele Ajiboye, Daniel Itodo, Sikiru Olatunbosun, Seth Mayi, Bernard Ovoke, Ezekiel Thompson and Ibeh Johnson with Godwin Obaje, Gabriel Wassa, David Obiazo, Benjamin Turba and Elisha Golbe all starting from the bench — which looked even stronger than FC Ifeanyiubah’s starting XI filled with upstarts.
Anozie did just enough to deny Ovoke, Thompson and Olatunbosun at different times and not even Itodo’s long throws could help breach the defence of FC Ifeanyiubah anchored by Charles Okafor. FC Ifeanyiubah rarely attacked and only had one opportunity which they fluffed in a counter-attacking situation in which they had numerical advantage of three to beat two. At the end, they took back with them a priceless 0-0 scoreline.
ABIA WARRIORS’ OPENING DAY RECORD SMASHED
FC Ifeanyiubah’s southeast rivals Abia Warriors were not lucky to leave Lafia with a result as they lost 0-1 to Nasarawa United. It was the first time that the Umuahia club would taste defeat in their opening matchday game since they made their top-flight debut in 2014.
Abdullahi Abubakar’s strike on 20 minutes proved sufficient for Nasarawa United who have endured struggling starts in recent seasons.
KANO PILLARS START LIFE WITHOUT LOKOSA
In Kano, Junior Lokosa’s impending departure is already being felt as Kano Pillars scraped to a 1-0 victory over Heartland. Pillars benefited from an error from Ebele Obi whose poor goalkeeping on 16 minutes allowed Chinedu Sunday to guide the ball home with his head from close range.
Kabiru Baleria’s men could not conjure that second goal to ease the pressure of Heartland breathing down their necks in the second half and would be thankful that Chidiebere Ajoku’s goal for the away team did not stand owing to offside positioning.
Matchday of the NPFL takes place this midweek.