The countdown begins to the end of a memorable Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) with the penultimate matchday that throws up very intriguing contests across the country including an Oriental Derby that could determine the fate of two-time African champions Enyimba’s ambition of qualifying for Caf competitions.
Persistent table-toppers Plateau United could sew up the title this Sunday when they play at relegation-threatened Wikki Tourists with a win, and make the last matchday inconsequential in terms of the title race. However the Jos club have had it tough whenever they make the trip to the northeast city of Bauchi. Their last three travels there have ended in defeat. The leaders have also failed to score in four of the last five away matches.
Striker Reuben Bala who netted a hattrick for the league leaders in their 4-1 win over ABS FC earlier in the season believes that they stand a chance of pulling off a result at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Stadium in Bauchi if they play to their strength. He added that they are not under pressure with one hand on the league trophy.
“We are not under pressure at all, instead we are confident ahead of our next game. Like you said, we have lost our last three games there but these things can change with one game. I believe we are in good form to do so this time because we have very good players. We don’t have a problem scoring goals as anyone can do so in the team,” he said to npfl.
Second-placed MFM FC are on the heels of Plateau United in the title race and realistically they look like the only side that can topple the Jos team who can miss out on a first league trophy if they stumble in their last two matches. MFM will be keen to put the full points on the board against Nasarawa United who are still within sight of a top-three finish. Nasarawa United have failed to score in 13 of their last 20 away matches but in goalkeeper Suraj Ayeleso they have a man between the sticks who will aim to thwart MFM’s attacking threat from Austine Ogunye, Waheed Adebayo and Sikiru Olatunbosun. MFM will be without Stephen Odey who is out of the country to seal a move abroad.
The race for the top-three would further take proper shape after Sunday’s matches. Realistically, MFM, Akwa United, Enyimba, Nasarawa United, FC Ifeanyiubah, El-Kanemi Warriors and outgoing champions Rangers International are in with a chance to finish in top-three positions as Plateau United with just a point in the bag will secure their place, or do so with their very healthy goal difference.
MFM and Rangers play at home against Nasarawa United and Enyimba respectively. The Oriental Derby pits two teams Enyimba and surprisingly Rangers with a chance of finishing in the top-three. Rangers will need to win to stay in contention, or otherwise, they will only finish the securing their top flight status. The Flying Antelopes have only managed just a win in their last eight meetings with Enyimba.
The other sides aiming for a top-three finish at least play on the road. Akwa United, Enyimba, El-Kanemi, Nasarawa United and FC Ifeanyiubah are involved in delicate away games.
The race for survival gets interesting. Three teams are expected to go down with Remo Stars and all the clubs from 11th position downwards are in danger of dropping to the second tier, the Nigeria National League (NNL) should they fail to get favourable results this Sunday.
Gombe United look to be in a race against time to save their season, as they face Rivers United at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium in Port Harcourt where they have failed to avoid defeat in their last five visits. All season Gombe United have managed just three points on the road from 18 matches. Manu Garba and his men have a game on their hands in the Garden City as pundits have tipped them to follow in the direction of Remo Stars at the end of this matchday.
The race for survival has a long list that also includes Abia Warriors, Lobi Stars, Rivers United, Katsina United, Sunshine Stars, Shooting Stars, ABS FC and Wikki Tourists. One of the standout games will be Shooting Stars playing hosts to the ambitious Akwa United.
When the clock ticks 6pm on Sunday, the men will have been separated from the boys going into the final matchday.