Scramble for points continues despite absence of top guns
By George Akpayen
This Sunday, 14 out of the 20 clubs in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) will compete for points and aim to improve their standings as the season enters its 11th matchday.
Three games involving champions Plateau United, MFM FC, Akwa United and seven-time winners Enyimba have been shifted to the final week in March.
Seven matches are on offer this weekend with Kano Pillars, Lobi Stars and Rivers United nursing genuine chance of moving into the upper echelons of the league ranking this season.
GUNNING FOR TOP SPOT
With table-toppers Plateau United preparing for their CAF Champions League game at Etoile du Sahel, their absence creates room for Kano Pillars to once again annex top spot for a matter of days when they play hosts to new boys Go Round.
Kano Pillars start the day unbeaten in their last seven matches and their head coach Ibrahim Musa has rallied his men to extend that run to eight as they bid for a fifth title.
“It is too early to talk about the title after just 10 matches,” he told npfl.ng. “But all we want to do now is take each game as they come and make sure we take as many points as we can. For this match (against Go Round) we, as a team, know we must give everything to win.”
Rivers United could find themselves in first or second place should they defeat FC Ifeanyiubah and results elsewhere go in their favour. FC Ifeanyiubah have never won at Rivers United except. Stanley Eguma’s team will be buoyed by picking their first full points on the road at Kwara United last weekend when Chikere Osita’s late strike sealed a 1-0 win for them.
Also aiming for possible shot at the top of the pile will be Lobi Stars. But they will have to dig deep to defeat Heartland who will now play their home games at the FC Ifeanyiubah Stadium in Nnewi until their Dan Anyiam Stadium ground meets requirement to start hosting NPFL matches again. Heartland have won all five of this matchup.
LOKOSA CLOSES IN ON DOUBLE FIGURES
However one of the clubs Kano Pillars looking to wrest top spot this Sunday will rely heavily on leading scorer Junior Lokosa to deliver the goods. The forward has been in redhot form so far – netting nine goals in 10 appearances. He has accounted for 69.2% of his club’s total goals so far in this campaign.
New boys Go Round will certainly have work to do when they come against a striker who has scored six of his nine goals in home matches. If Go Round blink first then Lokosa would reach double figures this weekend with the season barely halfway yet.
INTERESTING MATCHUP OF TOP SCORERS IN OMOKU
On the tails of Lokosa are Abia Warriors versatile man Ndifreke Effiong and Kwara United’s Stephen Alfred. Ndifreke who can play as a wing-back, in midfield or as a striker is tied on five goals with Alfred. The Abia Warriors man and Alfred have been responsible for 71.4% of their clubs’ goals. Despite their fine scoring forms, their teams occupy in delicate positions on the standings.
So it will be a face-to-face clash between the two men breathing down the neck of the leading scorer Lokosa at the Krisdera Hotel Stadium in Omoku where Abia Warriors have elected to play their home matches following the clampdown on their Umuahia Township Stadium by the League Management Company (LMC) for poor playing surface.
OGUNBOTE RETURNS TO AKURE
It will be another opportunity for Gbenga Ogunbote to be in Akure where he was once head coach of Sunshine Stars. This time, Ogunbote will lead Rangers to his old stomping ground. Last season, it was not a joyous return for Ogunbote when led Enyimba there are they suffered a one-nil defeat.
Rangers have in recent years struggled at Sunshine Stars but the Enugu club faithful will hope that their recent solidity at the back which has only led to conceding twice in their last five matches continues though they will have to show it against the attacking threats from Sikiru Alimi, Abiodun Joseph, Kehinde Adedipe, Ezekiel Thompson, Tayo Adebogun and co.
Two other games will take place in Lafia and Maiduguri. Nasarawa United will play hosts to Wikki Tourists at the Lafia City Stadium while El-Kanemi Warriors will want to continue their unbeaten run of 37 home matches when they face Niger Tornadoes.