By Damiete Sanipe
Plateau United confirmed their season-long status as No 2 in the Nigeria Professional Football League and will join new champions Rivers United to represent the country in the CAF Champions League next season.
This is as at least four teams jostle for one continental spot and about seven others battle for survival in the relegation zone, all with mathematical chances to retain their NPFL status. Four teams are destined to go down.
One more continental slot remains to be filled through the elite league. And that goes to No 3, which is not likely to be decided until the last day of the season. There are two more matches to wrap up the season and five points separate Nos 3 to 8.
Remo Stars retained their third spot at the end of the weekend matches, while Kwara United gained two places to land at No 4, and became the new threat to the Stars in picking the CAF Confederation Cup ticket. In the aftermath, Rangers dropped a step to fifth spot.
Remo made it count when it mattered most as a solitary Sikiru Alimi goal was all it took to give them all three points to maintain pole position among the chasing pack. The Sky Blue Stars pipped Enyimba 1-0.
At the Kwara Sports Stadium, Ilorin, Kwara United, who narrowly missed the continent last season, took their fate in their hands. The Harmony Boys started well against Nasarawa United as Jide Fatokun scored as early as the 13th minute to get things rolling. Samad Kadiri and Junior Lokosa added further goals in the second half in an impressive 3-0 score line to land United in fourth.
Remo and Kwara on 56 and 55 points respectively are slowly pulling away for the last continental spot, while Rangers and Enyimba will be licking their wounds and hoping for miracles in the next two match days.
Also hopeful of third spot are Sunshine Stars and Akwa United, although their chances are slim.
Plateau United had to dig deep to beat Lobi Stars in Jos. Just five minutes on, Duke Osimaga shocked the hosts. But Mohammed Zulkifilu’s 20th minute penalty levelled score. Zulkifilu completed the task 15 minutes after the break to bring the fans alive.
Niger Tornadoes proved to be the team of the week as they were resolute to secure maximum points away to fellow relegation strugglers MFM.
Munir Idris got the opener for Tornadoes in the 22nd second minute and were sailing when substitute Chukwudi Ekeocha levelled things for the relegated home side. Jonas Emmanuel then got the winner in added time for the visitors that propelled them to 13th spot from 18th on the table, and almost safe.
At the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium, champions Rivers United left it late as a 94th minute penalty gave them the opportunity to secure maximum points. Duru Ebube took the responsibility with chasing top scorers Chijioke Akuneto and Ishaq Rafiu already substituted.
The backbreaking goal came at a time Kano Pillars thought they had picked a crucial point in their relegation battle. Pillars are just a step above the drop zone and by superior goal difference only. They will be away to Nasarawa United on Sunday and host Shooting Stars in their last match of the season.
Wikki Tourists beat dethroned champions Akwa United 2-0 through goals by Taiye Murtala (10th minute) and Prince John (27th).
With MFM relegated, the three other candidates will come from among Dakkada, Heartland and Katsina United, all in the relegation zone, while Shooting Stars, Lobi Stars and Kano Pillars are among the probables.
The season ends on Sunday 17th July.
Matchday 36 results: Abia Warriors 3-2 Gombe United, Heartland 1-0 Sunshine Stars, Rangers 2-2 Shooting Stars, Dakkada FC 2-0 Katsina United, MFM 1-2 Niger Tornadoes, Remo Stars 1-0 Enyimba, Plateau United 2-1 Lobi Stars, Wikki Tourists 2-0 Akwa United, Rivers United 1-0 Kano Pillars, Kwara United 3-0 Nasarawa United