STATS TALK: Three talking points from Matchday 22

By Ayobami Animashaun

Nine of the expected 10 matches for Matchday 22 were played on Sunday with two away wins recorded and a paltry 18 goals scored. Rivers United and Lobi Stars turned the heat on Plateau United by grabbing away wins as three-horse race for the NPFL title became more evident. However, some of the matches have left The Statsman with these three talking points.

Breached Plateau United

Plateau United’s charge for the title this season has been greatly aided by the team’s ability to score goals especially in the presence of home fans at the New Jos Stadium. However, a solid defensive performance in recent matches gave the team yet another impressive outlook. Since Fuad Ekelojuoti scored Sunshine Stars’ second goal against Plateau United on January 15, Abdu Maikaba’s side had gone on a six-game clean sheet spree.

No team has kept clean sheet in seven consecutive NPFL matches since the start of the millennium and the Jos-based club was on the brink of history before Saleh Ibrahim netted in the 93rd minute for Jigawa Golden Stars on Sunday. The goal ended Plateau United’s run of 11 hours, 26 minutes without conceding in the NPFL – still the longest shutout in the league since 2000, eclipsing Lobi Stars’ 10 hours 43 minutes shutout also set earlier this season.

Rivers United on new away frontiers

Rivers United are yet another title-challenging side this season, but unlike their rivals from Jos, the Port Harcourt-based club is riding on an imperious form in away matches. Stanley Eguma’s side has earned 12 away points – joint most by any team this season. That represents 31% quota of the team’s total points this season and a clear indication on how the team is not overly reliant only on home results.

Since the merging of Dolphins and Sharks to form Rivers United in 2016, the club is currently enjoying its best away performance this season. Wins at Warri Wolves and Adamawa United were complimented with Sunday’s 2-0 win at Heartland – increasing Rivers United’s away point tally to a club-record 12 points from just 11 away matches. This is two points better than the total of 10 away points from their supposed best away-performance season in 2016.

Abia Warriors and missed penalty kicks

Abia Warriors’ miserable penalty record this season claimed a new height when Shedrack Asiegbu stepped up to miss his spot kick against Akwa United on Sunday. It was the club’s fourth missed penalty kick of the season, raising the eyebrows of The Statsman with thoughts of what could have been for the Umuahia-based club.

Jimoh Oni, Lukman Bello and Isaac Emeka had earlier missed a spot kick each this season, and a brief hypothetical outlook of the situation tells almost the same story as the club’s performance this campaign.
The missed penalties came in the games against FC Ifeanyiubah, Warri Wolves, Enyimba, and Akwa United. Interestingly, the Ochendo Babes failed to win only the Abia derby in all the stated matches. While that is a show of character. Abia Warriors, who are currently placed 16th on the log, will need to start converting their spot kicks if they are to fully harness all presented opportunities in bid to avoid relegation this season.