By Fisayo Dairo
It’s Matchday 19, the midway point of the 2019/20 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) season and all indices point yet another high-octane competitiveness at all sections of the log.
The pendulum of leadership have though been swinging between three clubs, Plateau United, Lobi Stars and Rivers United but they all know that others like Akwa United, Kano Pillars and surprise team of the season, Dakkada are fast on their heels.
The fight is no different at the midsection of the log which has seen Abia Warriors, Katsina United, Heartland and perhaps defending champions, Enyimba doing all they can to stay away from the drop zone.
That dreaded drop zone has harboured the likes of Adamawa United, Jigawa Golden Stars, Nasarawa United, Kwara United with Wikki Tourists and Rangers which making a late surge away from the group.
But then the not too flattering tag of “mid-season champions” is poised to fall between North Central rivals Lobi Stars and Plateau United while other teams on the road of resurgence after below-par starts face very herculean tasks at different away venues this weekend.
On the lower rung of the ladder, teams are gradually coming to terms with the relegation dogfight that lies ahead of them in the second half of the season and so, such battle to avoid the ignominious drop intensifies from Match Day 19, this weekend.
Plateau United can seal the “Mid-season champions” tag when they feature in the weekend’s curtain-raiser against Dakkada FC in Uyo on Saturday. Out of the last ten teams on top of the table at the midway point (including Lobi Stars in the 2018 season and minus last season being an abridged season), the Mid-season champions have gone on to win the league eight times.
This should be juicy for Abdu Maikaba and his Plateau stars but they know they are in for a very difficult task at the Nest of Champions against Dakkada FC who have punched above their weights and could go level on points with Plateau should they win on Saturday.
Lobi Stars have the privilege of knowing what Plateau United would have played on Saturday before facing Wikki Tourists at the Aper Aku Stadium on Sunday. The aura of invincibility that surrounded Gbenga Ogunbote’s Lobi in recent weeks has gradually eroded and they face a Wikki side unbeaten under new coach Usman Abd’Allah (1W 3D 0L).
The Unbeaten runs
Rangers International seem to have turned the corner under Salisu Yusuf. The Flying Antelopes have overcome a dreadful start under the Super Eagles coach and are now unbeaten in their last seven games in all competitions including three wins in four league outings. They will, however, face an Akwa United side in Uyo (where they have lost just once in last three visits) on Sunday in what should be another stern test after Wednesday’s point at Lobi Stars.
Kano Pillars visit troubled MFM FC at the Agege Township Stadium on Sunday. While MFM are winless in their last four matches, Pillars are on the threshold of an unprecedented record in the Nigerian league. They are currently 13 games unbeaten and need just one more game to surpass Enyimba’s 15-year old record.
The Abia Classico
Nigeria’s remaining continental hopeful Enyimba FC will face their state rivals Abia Warriors in the Abia Classico on Sunday. Enyimba only on Wednesday ended a run of six domestic games without a win when they beat MFM in Lagos and will hope to steer further clear of relegation issues with a win against a side they have only lost against twice in nine league outings.
Relegation dogfight and the rest
In Kano on Sunday, Jigawa Golden Stars face Nasarawa United at the Sani Abacha Stadium in a relegation six-pointer while basement side Adamawa United have Heartland FC as their guests at the Pantami Stadium in Gombe.
In the other games, league’s joint topscorer Tasiu Lawal will hope to add to his tally when Katsina United host Warri Wolves at the Muhammadu Dikko Stadium; Sunshine Stars will welcome FC Ifeanyiubah to Akure while Kwara United will be the guests of Rivers United in Port Harcourt.
Dakkada FC vs Plateau United
Adamawa United vs Heartland FC
Enyimba vs Abia Warriors
Jigawa Golden Stars vs Nasarawa United
Katsina United vs Warri Wolves
MFM FC vs Kano Pillars
Rivers United vs Kwara United
Akwa United vs Rangers Int’l
Lobi Stars vs Wikki Tourists
Sunshine Stars vs FC Ifeanyiubah