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NPFL: Rivers suffer setback in title race

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Despite the setback this evening, the destination of this season’s Nigeria Professional Football League title is all but certain. Playing in front of their fans at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Stadium in Bauchi, Wikki Tourists got their revenge over Rivers United having lost the first leg 0-3 in Port Harcourt.

Manu Garba’s 14th minute goal was all that mattered in that game, and with Plateau United picking maximum points at home in Jos, the distance between both front runners is now down from 10 to seven points.

Unless Rivers United further implode, Port Harcourt will host the domestic league crown for the first time in 11 years. When it happened in 2011, Rivers United had not been born. Two Port Harcourt teams – Dolphins and Sharks – were in the domestic topflight league with the former winning the title at the end of the 2011 season to add to their 1997 and 2004 triumphs.

Dolphins and Sharks were then fused in 2016 to found Rivers United. And since then, the Pride of Rivers have been chasing glory.

Champions in 2017 and also log leaders until COVID-19 caused the suspension of the league in 2020, Plateau United have Jesse Akila to thank for their hard-fought victory over Kano Pillars. His 38th minute strike was all that mattered.

Third placed Rangers were sent back home empty-handed by Abia Warriors at the Okigwe Township Stadium the southeast derby. Losing back-to-back on the road within four days, Coach Imama Amapakabo and his squad eased pressure off themselves when Valentine Odoh struck in the 45th minute. Three minutes into the restart, Paul Samson sealed victory for the home side. But Rangers remain third on the log, and in contention for continental ticket.

Amapakabo, a former Rangers coach, was pleased with how the game turned out for his team.

“It’s always nice when we play against a team that we know are going to be tactical so we knew it was going to be one of such and we planned for it,” he told www.npfl.ng.

“I told my players that in games like these, chances are going to be few and far between so it depends on when they come, how well we are able to take those chances”.

Remo Stars closed the gap on Rangers to one point as they keep their focus on the continent next season. Sikiru Alimi was the match winner with his 17th minute delivery.

Kwara United were triumphant at home beating Katsina United 2-0 – Issa Gata (31st minute) and Junior Lokosa (81st minute) on the score sheet. Kwara United moved a step up from the sixth spot, which Enyimba now occupy.

Previously fourth, the People’s Elephant could not survive the battle at Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna against Niger Tornadoes. Five minutes after Munir Idris scored the first goal of the day for the home side, Enyimba’s Chukwuemeka Obioma levelled up in the 36th minute. But just at the end of regulation time in the first half, Musa Wakili restored Tornadoes’ advantage. There were no further goals.

Tornadoes gained a step from their previous 16th position, while Enyimba lost ground – from fourth to sixth.

Sunshine Stars defeated Nasarawa United through early goals by Chigozie Chilekwu (third minute) and Ugochukwu Leonard (14th), while Chinedu Ohanachom reduced the tally 73 minutes into the game. That victory launched Akure Gunners from ninth to seventh, while remained on top of the second half of the table.

Heartland got the better of defending champions Akwa United at the Dan Anyiam Stadium, Owerri. Adewole Adeniji made the difference with his 47th minute goal.

Dakkada inflicted more pains on Shooting Stars winning 2-0 in Uyo with goals from Emmanuel Ayaosi in the 27th and Aniekan Ekpe in the 56th minutes. Shooting Stars lost ground marginally – from 12th to 13th – while Dakkada got up from the bottom of the table, and now 19th on the log.

Unable to win at home MFM, who played goalless with Lobi Stars, dropped to the base of the table and have relegation starring them in the face. Lobo Stars remain ahead of all the bottom four teams.

Matchday 31 results: Wikki Tourists 1-0 Rivers United, Sunshine Stars 2-1 Nasarawa United, Plateau United 1-0 Kano Pillars, Niger Tornadoes 2-1 Enyimba, MFM 0-0 Lobi Stars, Kwara United 2-0 Katsina United, Dakkada FC 2-0 Shooting Stars, Remo Stars 1-0 Gombe United, Abia Warriors 2-0 Rangers, Heartland 1-0 Akwa United

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