There is a gulf of five points between log leaders Remo Stars and their guests, Bendel Insurance as they file out at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City this evening for MatchDay 7 of the 2023/24 Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL). Even with a game in hand (MatchDay 5 game away to Enyimba), the Ikenne-Remo side occupy the top spot in the fledging table after winning four of their five matches, losing the other to Rivers United 0-2 in a rescheduled opening day encounter in Port Harcourt.
Insurance themselves have outstanding matches (two), and will be looking to emerge victorious for the third time this term as they host the Sky Blue Stars.
Last season, this fixture ended 3-0 in favour of the Benin Arsenal, who went through the regular (abridged) season undefeated. In the reverse fixture at Ikenne Remo, the matter ended in deadlock with Insurance coming from behind to make it 1-1. When both sides squared up at the Super 6 in Lagos, Remo prevailed through the only goal of the game.
Insurance are placed 13th and are guaranteed to move up the ladder if they win to make it 3-1-0 at home this season.
Remo have recorded the only away win this season’s NPFL when they beat Bayelsa United 2-1 in Yenagoa on MatchDay 3. Will they do it again, this time in Benin City?
Lobi Stars, who are in second place, and just a point short of Remo Stars, will file out at the Samson Siasia Stadium in Yenagoa on Monday hoping to win on the road for the first in four away matches this season. The Makurdi-based side (now having Lafia as home) have the second best away results this term having drawn two and lost one; as against Remo Stars’ 1-0-1.
Topping the relegation zone, Bayelsa United cannot afford to take chances if they desire to swim out of trouble.
Rangers host Heartland in another oriental derby at the Awka City Stadium. Third on the log, the Flying Antelopes have not spared any of the three teams that visited them this season, and indeed walloped Kano Pillars 4-1 the last time they played in front of their fans. Heartland, who are bottom of the table and have picked just one point in three previous away matches, may be added to that number.
Shooting Stars suffered heavily at Ikenne-Remo midweek, losing 0-3 to the Sky Blue Stars, and dropped from second to fourth. The Oluyole Stars look forward to redemption in Ibadan as they engage Niger Tornadoes, who lost all three matches away.
What Rangers did to Kano Pillars in Awka two matches ago, the latter gave back to Bayelsa United in Kano last time out. United returned to Yenagoa empty-handed and with three goals in their net.
Pillars, who are No. 5 going into this Matchday, have a date on Monday against Sporting Lagos in Lagos. The statistics do not favour the visitors who lost all their three matches on the road this season, while Sporting won two and drew one at home in this their debut season at the top flight.
Gombe United host Doma United, both teams having contrasting situations. The home side, now at No. 6, can go as far as No. 1 if all results go their way, while the visitors find themselves in the drop zone. Gombe triumphed in all three matches at home this season, while Doma have one point from the same number of games on the road.
It’s a match of former champions in Eket as Akwa United welcome seventh placed Plateau United. Champions in 2020/21, Akwa United managed to escape from the relegation zone midweek when they recorded their first victory of the season by pipping Gombe United 1-0, at the same Eket Sports Stadium. If the Promise Keepers are able to consolidate on that victory against 2016/17 winners Plateau United, they will travel further up the ladder.
Abia Warriors, at No. 8, will be challenged by Katsina United (No. 11) at Umuahia Township Stadium. The Warriors sent all three visitors to Umuahia back home empty-handed, and will seek to add Katsina to that list. The away team have no good away record having collected only a point (versus Heartland) in three matches this season.
In Port Harcourt, Rivers United, who are uncharacteristically at 10th, take on Sunshine Stars (No. 14). Both sides have one point separating them, which makes the encounter a winners-take-all in terms of placement on the log. Rivers have 2-1-0 at home, while Sunshine lost the two matches they played away.
Defending champions Enyimba have played the least number of matches this season as a result of their failed mission in the maiden African Football League. With three games, the People’s Elephant have just four points and are second from the bottom. With the continental misadventure over, they have to focus on the domestic scene, starting with this match against Kwara United at the Enyimba International Stadium in Aba.
Kwara United, joint 11th with Katsina United, have managed to pick a point in three away matches.
Sunday’s fixtures: Abia Warriors v Katsina United, Rivers United v Sunshine Stars, Rangers v Heartland, Enyimba v Kwara United, Shooting Stars v Niger Tornadoes, Bendel Insurance v Remo Stars, Gombe United v Doma United, Akwa United v Plateau United
Monday’s fixtures: Bayelsa United v Lobi Stars, Sporting Lagos v Kano Pillars