The top two teams on the 2021/2022 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) table Rivers United and Plateau United suffered defeat on the same day for the first time this season as Matchday 24 reached an enthralling climax on Thursday.
With 17 goals scored in five matches on Wednesday, 15 more were banged in in the other five decided on Thursday to account for 32 in all, the biggest harvest of goals on a single Matchday this season.
Ironically, the least scoring games involved the two top scoring sides in the league who were running neck-on-neck in the race to the title. Both teams conceded first half goals in their away ties and never recovered.
At the Ondo State Sports Complex in Akure, Sunshine Stars made it a sweet return back home from Ijebu-Ode where they had sojourned and made hay while the sun shone, beating Rivers United 1-0 courtesy of Ugochukwu Leonard Aputazie’s fifth minute strike.
Aputazie clinically headed home from a free kick by Ikenna Cooper to give Sunshine Stars a routine early lead.
The visitors nearly got an instant equaliser when Ishaq Rafiu was found in a vintage position but the former Shooting Stars forward took too many touches that brought the chance to nought.
Both teams made several changes in the second half but none further influenced the scoreline as the Owena Whales won their first game at their traditional home ground this season.
The defeat ended Rivers United’s 12-match unbeaten run and marked only their second loss this season.
Sunshine Stars head coach Emmanuel Deutsch believed that his team’s return to Akure affected their performance.
“Coming back to Akure was not easy on the boys. They wanted to impress the fans. It affected them with the chances they failed to convert, but we will improve on that,” he told www.npfl.ng
For Rivers United technical adviser, Stanley Eguma blamed his team’s defeat on profligacy. “We missed a lot of scoring chances today. That was our bane and it is normal in the game of football. So, I congratulate our opponents for today’s win,” he said.
“Everybody knows the league is not over. We lost points today and it will not help our ambition, but that is not the end. We will go back and re-strategise. It is not over until it is over,” Eguma said.
The only positive for Rivers United would be that their four-point cushion over Plateau United stands after the Jos based side went down 0-1 at basement team Heartland.
Homeboy Chukwudi Nwaodu scored the game’s only goal in the 16th minute to render Fidelis Ilechukwu’s return to the Dan Anyiam Stadium, Owerri fruitless.
While the win moved Heartland off the bottom to No 18 for the first time in the second stanza of the season, MFM dropped to 20th – the bottom of the pyramid, after a shock 0-2 loss at home to Wikki Tourists.
Abubakar Aliyu’s second minute goal and Salomon Chigoziem’s effort three minutes to the end all but put paid to their survival hopes.
Another team dropping to depths unimagined is Kano Pillars who were hammered 0-4 by Enyimba in Aba. Striker Victor Mbaoma netted a brace to get to 10 league goals this term before substitutes Emeka Obioma and Godwin Emmanuel added their names to the score sheet. To compound their agony, Pillars, who have now dropped to 19th on the log as a result of point deduction resulting from their disrupted game against Katsina United, had their goalkeeper Joshua Enaholo sent off in stoppage time.
The day’s highest scoring game came at the Nest of Champions, Uyo where reigning champions Akwa United dismantled Nasarawa United 6-1. The Promise Keepers led 4-0 at half time courtesy of goals from Ubong Friday, Adam Yakubu and Wisdom Fernando (2).
Babatunde Bello and Franklin Matib added two more in the second half, after King Osanga had pulled one back for the visitors.
Matchday 25 fixtures hold on Sunday and Monday across 10 centres.
Matchday 24 results: Lobi Stars 2-1 Gombe United, Katsina United 3-1 Shooting Stars, Niger Tornadoes 2-1 Rangers. Kwara United 1-1 Abia Warriors, Remo Stars 4-1 Dakkada FC, Akwa United 6-1 Nasarawa United, Enyimba 4-0 Kano Pillars, Sunshine Stars 1-0 Rivers United, Heartland 1-0 Plateau United, MFM 0-2 Wikki Tourists