NPFL: LOBI, PLATEAU, RIVERS CHASE TITLE AS SECOND HALF OF THE SEASON KICKS OFF

BY MUYIWA AKINTUNDE.

The business end of the season starts across the country this Sunday with Lobi Stars standing on top of the log. Plateau United, Rivers United as well as Sunshine Stars and Dakkada FC are immediately challenging them.

This weekend’s fixtures are a reverse of the last Matchday games when the season reached the halfway point. In effect, teams who got on the wrong end of the result have the chance to have their own revenge.

Lobi Stars are in Bauchi to face Wikki Tourists who were unlucky to lose 1-2 from a winning position in Makurdi a week ago. Wikki arrive the Benue State capital from Aba where they had clashed with Enyimba in a rescheduled fixture midweek and lost 0-3. Not having fresh legs may count so much against the Giant Elephant, who are only two steps and two points above the bottom four.

In their last five matches, Lobi have won two, drawn two but lost to Jigawa Golden Stars by a lone goal in Kano; while Wikki have only won one (2-1 versus MFM in Bauchi), lost two on the road and drawn the remaining. Last season in Bauchi, this fixture ended 1-1.

Second placed Plateau United will sneak back to the head of the table if Lobi fail to make it in Bauchi and they, in turn, beat Dakkada in Jos. New on the blocks, the Akwa State side have punched above their weight and are rubbing shoulders with the heavyweights in the elite league.

In their first ever head-to-head clash, Plateau United got a point in their trip to Uyo against Dakkada last Sunday.

The former Akwa Starlets will be all out to emulate their “big brothers” Akwa United, who played goalless at the New Jos Stadium in Matchday 14 against Plateau United, the same result Kano Pillars got in Jos on Matchday 6.

Seven other home matches have however ended up in triumphs for Plateau United this term at home.

In third place are Rivers United who travel to Ilorin to encounter Kwara United, lone goal victims in Port Harcourt last Sunday. That result marked the seventh away defeat for Kwara United, which included 1-6 humiliation by Kano Pillars.

Nine home matches in their former name Delta Force and since the acquisition of that club have fetched Kwara United only five victories and two shared honours. In their first match as Kwara United, they lost 0-1 to Heartland in Ilorin and have also suffered 1-3 humiliation at the same ground against Plateau United.

Rivers United will be aiming at their third win on the road after beating Adamawa United (2-0) and Warri Wolves (1-0). United will also lead the league if they win and the results of Lobi Stars and Plateau United go their way.

Sunshine Stars, in No 4, are away in Nnewi to face FC Ifeanyi Ubah. Last Sunday in Akure, Sunshine shone in front of their fans winning 2-0 to break into the top four in place of Dakkada FC.

Wikki Tourists and Adamawa United surrendered to Sunshine Stars away this season, which means Ifeanyi Ubah should be mindful of their guests.

Akwa United were lucky to escape with a point in their kitty in the local derby against Dakkada midweek and they are in Enugu this time to face Rangers. The first leg in Uyo on Sunday was a goalless affair.

Katsina United wounded Warri Wolves 2-1 last weekend and arrive Warri Township Stadium aiming to replicate Rangers’ experience. In their last match on this  ground, the Seasiders lost 1-2 to the Flying Antelopes.

Pillars returned to Kano last Sunday rueing their 1-3 capitulation to MFM in Agege after leading at the interval and having a large turnout of their fans in that vicinity backing them.

The invincible tag at Sani Abacha Stadium has been removed from Pillars this season. Opening with a goalless result against Rivers United, the Masu Gida lost 0-1 on Matchday 2 to Lobi Stars, and have also failed to beat Wikki Tourists and Warri Wolves on that ground.

MFM showed no respect to their hosts in their first away games of the season beating Heartland and Rangers, but have experienced setbacks, including the rejigging of their technical crew.

Like Rangers, defending champions Enyimba have four outstanding matches accumulated as a result of continental engagements. The People’s Elephant will aim at a double against local rivals Abia Warriors after winning the first leg 2-1 a week ago. Their 3-0 bashing of Wikki Tourists on Wednesday will boost them.

The fixtures

Abia Warriors v Enyimba

Rangers v Akwa United

Heartland v Adamawa United

FC Ifeanyi Ubah v Sunshine Stars

Kano Pillars v MFM

Kwara United v Rivers United

Nasarawa United v Jigawa Golden Stars

Plateau United v Dakkada FC

Warri Wolves v Katsina United

Wikki Tourists v Lobi Stars