.Kano Pillars seek three points against troubled Heartland FC
Match Day Eighteen of the NPFL serves up the full dosage of ten matches spread across Sunday and Monday. As the business end of the season approaches, these ten matches have become all the more significant.
Here is a peep into what the weekend portends.
- ADAMAWA UNITED VS WIKKI TOURISTS (Last Meeting: Adamawa United 0-0 Wikki Tourists)
After a disappointing start to the campaign which saw Adamawa United go all of eleven matches without a win before a 1-0 home win over Lobi Stars paved the way for a run of three matches without defeat and without conceding, any lingering vestiges of a season’s revival may have now been extinguished by a winless string of three matches comprising a home draw and two away losses which include a 5-0 loss at Kwara United, last weekend.
Tourists still look trapped in the traumatic embers of the horrific fire incident which engulfed their team bus a few weeks ago. They now appear to have two NPFL teams; the one which featured pre-incident and the one which now features, post-incident. Wikki have mustered just one win in five post-incident outings including three defeats which is just one less than their tally of four losses in twelve pre-incident outings.
Although this fixture finished goalless last season but the odds are heavily in favour of Wikki who need a positive response after last weekend’s home loss to Pillars necessitated a public apology to their supporters.
- KANO PILLARS VS HEARTLAND (Last Meeting: Heartland 1-1 Kano Pillars)
This will be the eighteenth top flight meeting between these sides since 2011 with the stats standing at six wins, six draws and five losses in favour of Heartland including last season’s 1-1 draw at Okigwe Township Stadium.
These are two sides who have recent off-the-field issues at their respective camps to contend with but if you are looking for goals, this is probably where you need to beam your searchlight. Only once in the last ten years has there been a goalless draw between the duo.
Kano Pillars have scored at least a goal in all their home matches and Heartland, on the other hand, despite possessing the division’s second-best scoring record after Abia Warriors, also possess an unwanted joint-worst defensive record – worse than basement dwellers, Adamawa United.
Although the Naze Millionaires have conceded at least a goal in all their away matches except the last, they are also better scorers than Pillars and if they bring their A-game to Kaduna, they are capable of having a say on proceedings.
- PLATEAU UNITED VS RANGERS (Last Meeting: Rangers 0-0 Plateau United)
When you are trying to gather the pieces of what is left of your season like Plateau United are doing at the moment, Rangers are simply not the kind of visitors you want to welcome.
Plateau United goalkeeper Chinedu Anozie will sit out the last of his three-match ban following a red card and his place will once again be taken by Dele Ajiboye who has failed to keep a clean slate since replacing bulky goalie. Reputable goal poacher Ibrahim Mustapha will continue to be omitted from the first team squad due to injury while leading scorer with six, Mohammed Zulkilifu, will be hoping to bounce straight back from a penalty miss last weekend.
Although Plateau United are expected to enjoy the lion’s share of possession with their tiki-taka but Head Coach Abdul Maikaba will have to decide whether to start with one winger running through the channels or with two out-and-out wingers like Bernard Ovoke and Moses Effiong who came on and changed the flow of their game with quick transition play last Sunday.
Rangers have just one away win all season long and their sinusoidal form has seen them alternate home wins with away “no wins” leaving them with just two points from the last eighteen available on the road.
United – in an unfamiliar twelfth place in the standings, ten places behind Rangers – have continued to believe that there is some pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for them this season but such belief will be dynamited away if they fail to win this contest.
- AKWA UNITED VS LOBI STARS (Last Meeting: Akwa United 1-0 Lobi Stars)
Akwa United are playing swashbuckling football at the moment and the mere thought of facing them sends shivers down the spine of opponents. In Ndifreke Effiong, who is the NPFL’s joint-leading scorer with eight, Akwa United possess a lethal goalscoring machine that has been nothing but a thorn in the flesh of opposition defenders since the season commenced.
Still with a game in hand, the Promises Keepers are unbeaten in their last six outings (four wins, 2 draws) and have scored at least a goal in all but one of their home matches while Lobi Stars are on a winless streak of seven away matches so far which has been one of the low points of their season.
Lobi were ruthless in their 4-1 home dispatch of Rivers United last weekend even as Akwa United put up a statement performance to earn a 2-1 away win at MFM – their second away win this term.
There will be reunion in the air when Lobi’s leading scorer with five, Samuel Mathias, who has had his two spells at the club punctuated by a brief but grossly unsuccessful stint at Akwa United, file out against his former employers.
With just one draw between Akwa United and Lobi Stars since 2012, this fixture almost certainly does not draw.
- RIVERS UNITED VS SUNSHINE STARS (Last Meeting: Rivers United 2-1 Sunshine Stars)
After an early season blitz which included four wins and one draw in their opening seven matches, Sunshine Stars have now gone from running like the hunter to running like the hunted.
It is terrifying to reckon that in a 38-game season, Sunshine are regrettably on a run of ten matches without a win which puts them and this fixture on a knife’s edge.
The unfortunate downturn in the NPFL fortunes of Sunshine has coincided with a transmogrification of Sadeeq Yusuf early season’s Midas Touch into a Tainted Touch. The young striker has gone all of six matches without a goal with a coolly-converted penalty against Heartland on February 21, the last memory of how good he can be.
The Akure Gunners will be hoping for a repeat of their 2017 feat which saw them follow up a 2-0 first-leg home win with a 1-0 second-leg away win over Rivers United but just how humongous has their task become against a United side that left Makurdi last weekend with tails firmly between legs and who are in a dire need of an immediate riposte.
- ENYIMBA VS DAKKADA (Last Meeting: Dakkada 2-1 Enyimba)
Enyimba will have to dip into the depth of their squad to fill the void created by the departures of goalkeeper John Noble and winger Anayo Iwuala both of whom are on national duty with Nigeria’s Super Eagles. Their natural replacements are ex-Akwa United goalkeeper Olufemi Kayode and Akwa Ibom-born Orok Gabriel respectively but with a clear eye on their next continental engagement against Algeria’s ES Setif it is difficult to predict what Coach Fatai Osho’s tactical set-up might be.
Dakkada have proven themselves capable of measuring up to the big occasions as recent awe-inspiring results against Abia Warriors, Kano Pillars and Plateau United tend to suggest.
The attitude and performance with which they dispatched Plateau United last weekend was the perfect tonic Dakkada needed to usher in another huge fixture like this.
Enyimba’s Imo Obot and Alalibo Somiari, who were two of Dakkada’s tip-top performers last season, will be reuniting with some of their former colleagues when things get underway in Aba.
- WARRI WOLVES VS FC IFEANYI UBAH (Last Meeting: FCIU 3-1 Warri Wolves)
Warri Wolves’ interim Head Coach Paul Offor swung into action with an immediate impact – an away draw at Heartland last weekend – in his very first game in charge thereby putting an end to the Seasiders’ hitherto barren away run.
This must be the short-in-arm that Wolves, who have garnered just one win in their last nine matches, needed to turn around their campaign.
These are precarious times for both sides and this fixture clearly leaves no room for error.
FCIU are not only Wolves’ side-by-side neighbours with one point and one place separating them at the foot of the NPFL standings but like Wolves, FCIU have also mustered just one win in their last nine outings.
This is perfectly-poised and terribly difficult to call.
- KATSINA UNITED VS KWARA UNITED (Last Meeting: Kwara United 2-0 Katsina United)
Katsina United proved all doubting Thomases wrong with a timely and deeply-cherished 2-0 win over Rangers in their last home outing but it’s time to prove that that performance was not a flash in the pan.
With the physicality of leading scorer Rasheed Ahmed and the experience and versatility of captain Usman Bara’u as well as the technical abilities of Coach Baldwin Bazuaye MON, Katsina United have the wherewithal to pull themselves out of their present predicament.
Kwara United, on the other hand, do not only possess the league’s healthiest goal difference of +10 but are also the third-best travellers with two wins and three draws to show for their eight trips.
Their 5-0 win over Adamawa United, which propelled them to the summit of the classification is the division’s widest margin of victory so far and leading scorer with seven, Steven Jude, who is just one shy of the exploits of both Akwa United’s Ndifreke Effiong and Sunshine Stars’ Sadeeq Yusuf, will be hoping to stand up and be counted.
- JIGAWA GS VS MFM (Last Meeting: MFM 2-1 Jigawa GS)
MFM and Jigawa GS are in each other’s company in fourteenth and fifteenth places in the standings respectively with an identical record of five wins and seven losses apiece.
Although MFM ended their three-match losing streak with a 1-0 home win over Enyimba on Thursday while Jigawa earned an impressive away draw in Enugu against FCIU on Friday morning but this is not the ideal fixture for goals-loving fans.
The leading scorer of Jigawa GS, Samuel Stone and that of MFM, Balogun Muyiwa, have just three goals each.
The fact that Abia Warriors (25) alone have scored more goals than Jigawa GS and MFM put together (23) is rather a melancholy reflection of the goalscoring tribulation of the pair.
- NASARAWA UNITED VS ABIA WARRIORS (Last Meeting: Nasarawa United 3-1 Abia Warriors)
Abia warriors are the NPFL’s most in-form team at the moment. Their helter-skelter start to the season which saw them suffer four successive defeats in their opening four matches has now been subsumed under a cracking, jaw-dropping eight-match unbeaten run comprising five wins and three draws.
In point of fact, Warriors have only suffered one defeat in their last thirteen outings which was a 2-1 loss in Uyo at the hands of giant slayers, Dakkada.
Thenceforth, Adeleke Adekunle has been solid enough in midfielder to earn a call-up to the Super Eagles while striker Godwin Obaje has rediscovered his goalscoring mojo and his tally of five goals has combined with that of joint-leading scorer Chukwuemeka Obioma to weave Abia Warriors into the NPFL’s most potent attacking force with a total of twenty-five goals scored thus far.
Whereas two quick-fire goals wreaked havoc on Nasarawa United in Enugu last weekend, but only Kano Pillars and Enyimba have prevented them from claiming maximum points at the Lafia City Stadium – eight matches on the bounce. That formidable home form will be severely tested by their southeastern visitors.
With a total of 17 away wins and 322 goals scored in 166 mouth-watering matches, the NPFL is unflinching with the pulsating action it serves up every match day.
Bring it on, Naija!