Record winners in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), Enyimba and Rangers, will go into their weekend’s Matchday 3 fixtures with one aim upppermost in their minds – winning their first games of this season’s campaign.
Enyimba and Rangers have won the NPFL seven times apiece – the most by any club in the country. But both clubs play on the road this weekend. Enyimba face Katsina United at the Muhammadu Dikko Stadium in Katsina while Rangers square up with Heartland in this season’s second Oriental Derby at the Dan Anyiam Stadium in Owerri.
Rangers have won just once in 20 away matches going into the game at Heartland, and they have lost nine of their last 10 trips to Owerri though the last of those fixtures in June 2016 at the Dan Anyiam, the Flying Antelopes won 2-1. They came from behind to win through goals by Chinedu Udeagha and Chisom Egbuchulam after Julius Ubido had scored for Heartland.
Already the Flying Antelopes have lost their opening two games, including a 2-1 defeat at home to Lobi Stars which has put their head coach Gbenga Ogunbote and his men in the spotlight, and need a result to calm frayed nerves.
Enyimba who won their titles in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2015 have started out with draws against Lobi and Heartland. Paul Aigbogun’s return to the Aba club is yet to yield them a first league win this season.
A trip to the northwest to face Katsina United who have not lost in 20 home games – winning 13 of those fixtures. Aigbogun’s philosophy of tight-defending will surely come to the fore when the People’s Elephant face Katsina United as both sides search for their first wins.
Also waiting for first win
The bottom-two sides Kwara United and Nasarawa United are also in the hunt for their first win going into the third matchday of the campaign. Nasarawa United will look to shrug off defeats to title holders Plateau United (at home) and at Kano Pillars when they play hosts to Sunshine Stars.
Nasarawa United goalkeeper Suraj Ayeleso who kept the most clean sheets last season has already conceded three goals and their head coach Kabiru Dogo will be keen to tighten things at the back, though their performance mirrors the fact that they have been slow starters in the past two seasons.
One of the promoted sides Kwara United have already got off on the wrong end – two defeats in two including a two-nil loss to Niger Tornadoes on the opening matchday. Kwara United like Heartland and Nasarawa United are yet to score in 180 minutes since their return to the top division.
A trip to Nnewi to face FC Ifeanyiubah this Sunday is on the cards. Kwara United head coach John Obuh returns to an old stomping ground and will hope the like of Michael Ohanu who scored 21 goals in the second tier will finally kickstart the Harmony Boys’ campaign.
Derby day in Owerri
Owerri will play host to the second Oriental Derby between Heartland and Rangers after the first ended goalless in midweek between Enyimba and Heartland at the UJ Esuene in Calabar. This will be the 27th meeting between Heartland and Rangers who have 12 NPFL titles between them since 2003. Heartland have won 13 of the 26 previous contests, four more better than Rangers.
Both clubs have met 13 times in this same fixture in 15 years. Heartland have won 12 but lost the last time in this game. This matchup has always produced goals – 23 goals in the last 13 of this fixture.
Perfect starters aim for continuity
At the top of the pile, champions Plateau United and Niger Tornadoes start as top-two. They are the only clubs with 100 per cent records of two wins in two games. Kennedy Boboye will lead Plateau United to face his former employers Abia Warriors at the Umuahia Township Stadium.
Plateau United have only beaten Abia Warriors once in their four NPFL meetings which was last term when they won the title – a 2-1 win in Jos. Boboye’s men lost this fixture 2-1 last season but they will hope to keep their perfect start to the campaign going, or at least remain unbeaten as teams he has previously handled are known for their strong starts.
Tornadoes, who top the ranking by virtue of superior goals for, are in buoyant mood heading into their game against Wikki Tourists at the Jos New Stadium. Two wins in two, four goals in two and six maximum points tick the right boxes to make Tornadoes the table-toppers despite changing guard few days before the start of the season – replacing Abubakar Bala with Erasmus Onuh as head coach.
Wikki still hold a decent record against their opponents in this fixture. Last five meetings, Wikki have won four, only failing to win in May 2012 when it ended 0-0.
Elsewhere, last season’s runners-up MFM FC will square up with El-Kanemi Warriors in Maiduguri where they lost on the final day of the season 2-1 while Akwa United will want to make amends after suffering a one-nil defeat to newcomers Go Round FC in midweek at the Krisdera Hotel Stadium in Omoku.
Ngozi Elechi and his Go Round team will make their first-ever trip to the Aper Aku Stadium in the league to face Lobi Star who surprisingly conquered Rangers in midweek.
Rivers United and four-time champions Kano Pillars go head to head at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium in Port Harcourt.
© The Predictor