After so many flicks, tricks and kicks in the 2016/2017 Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL), the title race is set to go down the wire as Plateau United and Mountain of Fire and Miracles (MFM) FC have just one point separating them heading into Match Day 38, 9th September, 2017.
At the bottom of the table, it’s also a fight to the finish line between the teams that will join Remo stars and Gombe United in the Nigerian National League.
There is also the little matter of Enyimba and Akwa United fighting for the only CAF Confederations Cup spot left, as both teams play home matches.
Here are some talking points ahead of the final weekend in the NPFL.
JOS AND MAIDUGURI ARE THE VENUES TO BE IN
It’s been a fairy tale run for Plateau United all season, as nobody took them for title contenders when the season started. Of late though, the Lalong boys have had trouble getting results, as they’ve just won one game in their last five matches.
Coincidentally, they will be facing Enugu Rangers who are the defending league champions and are unbeaten in their last five matches, winning three and drawing two.
Coach Kennedy Boboye will be able to call on the services of long-throw specialist Daniel Itodo, Dele Ajiboye and Peter Eneji Jr, as all three have been allowed to join up with the team after they all got invites to be part of the CHAN team preparing for the West African Football Union (WAFU) Cup.
However, the team should be able to have their tails up on the final day against Enugu Rangers at the Rwang Pam Stadium as they have drawn just two matches, while winning all other games at home this season.
In Maiduguri, MFM FC will be looking to get the three maximum points at the Desert Warrior Stadium, while also hoping that Plateau United drop points at home, to stand any chance of winning the League title. The snag to that, though, is that El-Kanemi Warriors are yet to lose a game at their stadium in over five years, and they are not also safe from the relegation zone.
Also, their quest to get the win away from home is made difficult by the fact that Stephen Odey, the league top scorer, and a man who has scored 44% of their league goals this season, will not be a part of the game as he has just signed a deal with FC Zurich in Switzerland.
The team is currently on 62 points, one point behind league leaders Plateau United.
ENYIMBA AND AKWA UNITED BATTLE IT OUT FOR SOLE CAF CONFEDERATION SLOT
Felix Anyansi Awgu would have been so infuriated at the poor officiating that saw his team concede a late equalizer at the Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe Stadium in Enugu last weekend, which basically dashed their slim hopes of qualifying for the CAF Champions League.
With the other Confederations Cup ticket usually given to the winners of the Federations cup (AITEO CUP), it’s a fight to the finish between Enyimba FC and Akwa United for the 3rd position in the league.
As things stand now, there is just a single point separating both sides, with Enyimba currently occupying the 3rd position with 58 points. However, Akwa United seems to have the upper hand because of the fact that their opponents, Kano Pillars, don’t have anything to play for.
The same cannot be said of Enyimba whose game at the UJ Esuene Stadium will be against Kastina United who need at least a point to ensure their stay in the top flight.
WE’VE GOT A RELEGATION BATTLE ON OUR HANDS
There is a reason the Nigerian League is said to be one of the toughest on the continent. In testament to that statement, any of the teams from the 6th position, down to the 18th, could get relegated, as just four points separate them.
Of all the teams looking to avoid the drop this weekend though, Abubakar Bukola Saraki FC (ABS) have got the slimmest chance in staying up. This is because they have the worst goal difference amongst the lot (a minus twelve), and they also play away at the Lafia City Stadium against Nassarawa United, who also need at least a point to guarantee themselves a spot in the top flight next season.
Peradventure the Henry Makinwa boys get a win in Lafia, they will still have to hope that the likes of Niger Tornadoes, Sunshine Stars and Shooting Stars don’t get maximum points in their respective games.
Wikki Tourists ‘FC did themselves a whole lot of good last weekend by defeating Plateau United in Bauchi. The win saw them move into 17th on the log, with the team having to face Gombe United at the Pantami Stadium on Saturday. Knowing how they have struggled on the road this season, they should be able to come out unscathed when they square up against their northern rivals who are already relegated.
It will be difficult for the likes of Abia Warriors, Ifeanyi Ubah FC and Rivers United to go down because of the positive goal difference they’ve got, while Sunshine Stars will also take delight in facing already relegated Remo Stars, as the Sagamu-based team haven’t secured a win in their last 13 matches.
MATCH DAY 38 FIXTURES
Enyimba vs Kastina United
Plateau United vs Enugu Rangers
Gombe United vs Wikki Tourists
Abia Warriors vs Rivers United
Nasarawa United vs ABS
El-Kanemi Warriors vs MFM
Akwa United vs Kano Pillars
Niger Tornadoes vs Shooting Stars
Ifeanyi Ubah vs Lobi Stars
Remo Stars vs Sunshine Stars