The top two teams on the log after eight round of matches this season will come toe-to-toe on Sunday in the pick of Match Day 9 action in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) this weekend.
Remo Stars, the fascinating story of the season so far will play hosts to a reinvigorated Rivers United side at the Remo Stars Stadium, Ikenne-Remo. Both teams share two identical features: they have both amassed 18 points from eight games apiece and more significantly, both sides are the two remaining teams yet to taste defeat this term.
The privately owned side have quietly confounded their opponents, achieving unpredictable results spiced with panache and free-flowing football often associated with their new head coach Gbenga Ogunbote. However, their biggest test yet awaits them on home turf this Sunday in Rivers United.
United, apart from being unbeaten have also achieved results with style this term. They totally outclassed Enyimba in Aba on MD3 and have not looked back since then. Often propelled by the league’s topscorer Ishaq Rafiu who has seven goals in eight outings, the addition of Fatai Osho to their technical crew headed by Stanley Eguma has also been figured as a positive change in dynamics for the Pride of Rivers.
Regardless of the result between the two sides, there remains a strong possibility that they will remain in the top two at the end of Match Day 9. Third placed Rangers, who could not break down Remo’s defence on Wednesday travel to Benin to face Dakkada FC who will serve their third game punishment at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium.
Battle of the Strugglers
Two games ordinarily should have been the stand out fixtures this match day but the epileptic form of the teams involved have turned the ties to a desperate battle for points which makes such games more of what a team can get and not how they get it.
Some thirteen years ago, Heartland FC and Kano Pillars went head to head in the semi-final of Africa’s flagship Club football competition; the CAF Champions League. Since then, it has been something of an anticlimax especially for the Naze Millionaires who have even had to spend time in Nigeria’s second division in the past few years.
Pillars have not sniffed the summit of the elite division since they last won the trophy eight years ago and in spite of an annual restructuring, their struggles persist. On Saturday, both teams face off at the Dan Anyiam Stadium, Owerri in a repeat of the final match of last season. It will be interesting to see who wants it most among these two teams presently in the bottom half of the table.
Another South Western Derby is on the menu on Sunday at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos between two perennial strugglers in the league. Hosts MFM FC are currently bottom of the table and have had coaching and administrative changes over the past two weeks. They host Shooting Stars who dug deep to edge Kwara United 2-1 in midweek.
Both sides have only won two games out of their eight matches in 2021/2022 and that indeed is relegation form; an eventuality they will be all out to start staving off from this weekend. That should raise the stakes in this game which has a history of feistiness and noxious antics on the part of both sides.
Finidi, Ilechukwu, Dogo seek more home comfort
Former champions Enyimba will have the luxury of back-to-back home games when they host Katsina United on Saturday. Finidi George’s men pipped champions Akwa United in a rescheduled game on Wednesday to move to 4th on the log and they can move even higher with another three points against Azeez Mohammed’s United who are winless in their last three games.
Wikki Tourists are also another side with back-to-back home fixtures. Having returned to winning ways on Sunday with a come-from-behind win over Plateau United, Kabiru Dogo’s Tourists will stay at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Stadium, Bauchi to host Nasarawa United, led by former Wikki coach Bala Nikyu this Sunday.
Plateau United who have had good comfort at home so far this season will host the very lukewarm Abia Warriors in Jos on Sunday. This fixture pits Fidelis Ilechukwu against his former boss at national team level Imama Amapakabo with the former knowing that a win will further cement his side’s top five placement on the league log.
Champions Akwa United are on the road to face Niger Tornadoes in Abuja on Sunday with Kennedy Boboye hoping his side “bounce back to winning ways”, not for the first time this season as they continue their stop-start defence of the NPFL title.
Dogged Sunshine Stars who frustrated Akwa United in Uyo last Sunday will host Eddy Dombraye’s Lobi Stars – with four points from last two games – at the Dipo Dina Stadium, Ijebu Ode while Kwara United will host Gombe United in what promises to be a homecoming of some sort for Gombe head coach Aliyu Zubair.
With mid-week games coming up next week, coaches will have that at the back of their minds as they tinker with their squads but with the hope of results remaining positive.
Match Day 9 Fixtures:
Enyimba vs Katsina United
Heartland vs Kano Pillars
Sunshine Stars vs Lobi Stars
Remo Stars vs Rivers United
Dakkada FC vs Rangers Int’l
Niger Tornadoes vs Akwa United
MFM FC vs Shooting Stars
Plateau United vs Abia Warriors
Kwara United vs Gombe United
Wikki Tourists vs Nasarawa United