Attention will be focused on Akure and Owerri centres as Week 24 fixtures of this season’s Nigeria Professional Football League are concluded this Thursday. The outcomes will not affect the standings of table-topping Rivers United or No 2 Plateau United, but they may witness the widening or closing of gaps between both frontrunners.
Rivers United take a four-point advantage at the summit to face Sunshine Stars, who returned unbroken from Port Harcourt in the first leg. That goalless outcome marked the only time Rivers United could not win at home in 12 home matches this season.
The Pride of Rivers won their last away match 1-0 against Katsina United and will be aiming at an encore against the Akure Gunners, who have dropped four points at home – a lone goal defeat to Enyimba and a goalless result against Rangers. Thursday’s match is their 12th fixture at home this term.
Sunshine Stars, presently at No 6, cannot go further up this Matchday. So they must avoid dropping below Akwa United, who have the same points as the Gunners, or Enyimba and Wikki Tourists, both short by only one and two points respectively.
Second placed Plateau United have bottom-placed Heartland to worry about at the Dan Anyiam Stadium in Owerri. The Naze Millionaires have suffered two defeats at home (0-3 versus Rangers and 0-1 against Kano Pillars) and will not want a third one as they focus on survival.
Plateau are no respecters of their hosts, which they demonstrated against Rangers (1-0), Pillars (1-0) and Lobi Stars (2-0).
Victory for Heartland will lift them up the base, depending on the result of the games involving MFM and Kano Pillars.
Akwa United sit at seventh on the log but may finish in sixth if they beat visiting Nasarawa United and Sunshine Stars don’t get their desired result.
The Promise Keepers have not forgotten that Nasarawa prevailed 2-0 when both sides squared up in Nasarawa earlir in the season. They will therefore go for their second successive home win after beating Shooting Stars 2-1 two matches ago.
Nasarawa are bad travellers as they 0-3-8 away statistics reveal.
Enyimba versus Kano Pillars will have attracted attention. But not with the latter having fallen so badly that they now even in the relegation zone. Twenty points from 22 matches is not the kind of haul usually attributed to four-time champions of the domestic topflight league.
In Lagos MFM hosts Wikki Tourists. It’s a must-win game for the Olukoya Boys, who are enmeshed in the drop zone.
In Wednesday’s matches, the teams in the race to survive showed seriousness. Katsina United, on19th position pre-Matchday 24, shrugged off a stubborn Shooting Stars to record a 3-1 outcome that helped their fight against relegation.
Madaki Alkali Dauda opened the scoring for the home team in the 34th minute, but Sochima Elum restored parity after he met a loose ball with a sweet strike in the 53rd minute.
The Chanji Boys however regained their lead after Dauda converted a 59th minute penalty, while Aliyu Musa’s goal in the 91st minute secured a vital win that lifted the hosts to the 17th spot.
In Makurdi, Endurance Ebedebiri put Lobi Stars ahead against Gombe United on the stroke of half time while Chinonso Okonkwo doubled the lead from the penalty spot on the hour mark.
AlAmeen AlAmeen came off the bench to half the deficit for the visitors in the 76th minute. But Lobi Stars held on for their first win in four games, and a climb relegation zone, in the 16th position.
In Ikenne, Remo Stars turned out in style to grab their first ever win over Dakkada in the NPFL. Following a 33rd minute opener from Tolulope Ojo, the visitors gave a scare by drawing level through Dan Etido’s effort six minutes later.
However, the Sky Blue Stars showed class in the second half as goals from Qudus Akanni, Andy Okpe, and Sikiru Alimi earned the hosts a 4-1 win and another charge on a qualification for a continental spot next season.
Kwara United’s unsteady form continued as Abia Warriors forced a 1-1 draw in Ilorin. Samuel Tiza had broken the deadlock few seconds before the half time, but Valentine Odoh’s goal 10 minutes into the second half, earned the visitors their fifth away point of the season.
The push of Rangers for a continental tournament next season was dented by a 1-2 defeat against Niger Tornadoes. Goals by Segun Alebiosu and Musa Wakili in the 33rd and 82nd minutes sandwiched Kenechukwu Agu’s equaliser on the hour mark.
Additional reports by LMC Media