The protracted Matchday 22 of the Nigeria Premier Football League (2021/22 season), which opened on Sunday, finally ended on Wednesday with Rivers United affirming their status as table toppers. The Pride of Rivers have now established a four-point gap between themselves and Plateau United, in second place.
Rivers United’s Joseph Onoja waited till the last minute of regulation time at the Muhammadu Dikko Stadium in Katsina to score the only goal of the match against Katsina United. It was the only away win of the Matchday.
Rivers United also triumphed in the first leg 3-0.
On Monday, Plateau United dropped two points in Ilorin where Kwara United forced the Jos side to 1-1.
Plateau United had a near perfect run in the season and have been close challengers for to Rivers United after Remo Stars’ run of good form fizzled.
For a team with a new coach and relatively new players going into new season, it was expected that Plateau United would find it hard to settle into new approach.
But that was not the case under Fidelis Ilechukwu as Technical Adviser and new players to beef up the team.
The Tin City club have been the second-best attacking team in current campaign scoring goals 32 times – two shy of Rivers United – and garnering points home and away. They also hold a record of perfect home results.
Vice Captain Andrew Ikefe, who had a difficult start to the season due to ankle injury, told www.npfl.ng in Ilorin on Monday that a winning mentality and self-belief were strong motivations for the team.
‘It’s a good thing to pick a point in Ilorin because, we came here with nothing but victory in our mind, and we approached it like that. But, as you know, they (Kwara United) are one of the best sides in the league. So we are happy to get this point.
‘We all have individual targets; the goalkeeper wants to keep a clean sheet; the defenders wouldn’t want to let anyone past them, while the midfielders are willing to provide cover for our area and support for the attackers and strikers who want to score goals. So, we pull these targets together as one in our team, helping out for one another, and it has been good for us’.
Coach Ilechukwu has the same sentiment as his player. He would rather look at the point picked at Ilorin as being very important, especially after recently losing their 11-match unbeaten run to Sunshine Stars in Akure two matches earlier. Ilechukwu disclosed after that encounter, he told the players that anything could happen in the league.
‘To us, we are not competing with Rivers United but working hard to finish in a better position at the end of the season.
‘Kwara United are one of the best teams in the league, hence a point means a lot to us because we really needed it and we are supposed to still be playing unbeaten but we lost to Sunshine Stars of Akure,’ Ilechukwu said.
Kwara United’s Chief Coach, Ashifat Suleiman said the result was a disadvantage to his side.
‘We can get what we have lost today in future games. It is like we have lost all the three points,’ Suleiman said.
On Tuesday, Remo Stars failed to usurp Rangers’ position at No 3 by playing goalless with bottom-placed Heartland at the Dan Anyiam Stadium, Owerri.
Akwa United’s coach, Adedeji Ayeni, who managed his third game in charge of Promise Keepers, achieved his first win after two draws.
He however counted his side lucky to have earned the 2-1 outcome, as he rue the absence of the quartet of Ubong Friday, Sampson Gbadebo, Dennis Nya, and Wisdom Fernando, his regulars.
Babatunde Bello opened the scoring for the Promise Keepers on 14th minutes with a stunning effort from 32 metres, before Naibe Akpesiri doubled the advantage in the 69th minute when he tapped in Seth Mayi’s cross.
Shooting Stars dominated proceedings in the second half but failed to take advantage of begging opportunities. They however managed to reduce the deficit in the 81st minute through a well-carved Chidera Eze effort.
Ayeni said the result was crucial to Akwa United’s quest for continental football next season, citing injuries to key players as a factor affecting his plans for the team.
‘I came on board and met the key players grounded. I had to make a quick decision to inject some defenders into the team, holding forth for them to return from their injuries. I am positive their return in the next few days will energise the team as we push for a continental slot’, he said.
Shooting Stars manager, Edith Agoye took a lot the positives out of the game despite the result.
‘It was not a bad game for us. We did our best but did not take our chances. We pushed Akwa United to the end of the game. We are worried that we have not been able to amass points as we would have loved to in the second half of the campaign, but we will continue to work very hard to change the narrative’, Agoye said.
The win propelled the Uyo based side to eighth on the log, 14 points adrift of leaders Rivers United, while Shooting Stars are 12th.
Matchday 22 results: Sunshine Stars 1-0 Abia Warriors, Enyimba 2-1 Rangers, Niger Tornadoes 1-0 Wikki Tourists, Lobi Stars 0-0 Kano Pillars, MFM 2-0 Dakkada FC, Gombe United 3-1 Nasarawa United, Kwara 1-1 Plateau United, Akwa United 2-1 Shooting Stars, Heartland 0-0 Remo Stars, Katsina 0-1 Rivers United