BY MUYIWA AKINTUNDE
After their failed continental campaign which ended last Sunday, defending champions, Enyimba will now have to concentrate on the domestic scene.
Although placed ninth on the log, the People’s Elephant have enough outstanding matches and the experience to navigate the business end of the season.
At the moment, the Aba-based side are 13 points adrift of leaders Plateau United, who have played five matches more.
Enyimba and their guests this evening, Sunshine Stars have had four head-to-head clashes in Aba with the home side winning all but one, which ended goalless on Augusts 3, 2016.
The Akure Gunners prevailed in the first leg this season 1-0, played last November 20.
The last time Enyimba filed out in the NPFL was on February 23 in Lafia and they were smashed 0-2 by Nasarawa United to end a five-match winning streak.
Sunshine Stars won at home last Sunday pipping Abia Warriors 1-0 after crashing 0-3 away to Warri Wolves the previous week.
The five matches have fetched the Stars seven points (2-1-2) to keep them at No 4, nine points short of the leaders.
Nasarawa United, who lost defender, Chineme Martins in avoidable circumstances last Sunday at Lafia Township Stadium as they bashed Katsina United 3-0, travel to nearby Jos to take on table-toppers Plateau United.
Only two teams – Akwa United and Kano Pillars – have left the New Jos Stadium with a point each in 11 matches by Plateau United on that ground this season.
And Nasarawa United have proved to be featherweights against Plateau United in Jos having lost all their previous three games there.
Nasarawa United, in 14th spot but only one point up the relegation zone, are not so impressive away. Apart from shocking Dakkada FC in Uyo 3-0 on Matchday 15, Nasarawa have lost eight times on the road in 11 fixtures.
Second placed Rivers United are in Enugu as guests of Rangers. Seven places and 11 points separate both teams with Rangers however having an outstanding away match against Enyimba.
Both sides won their last fixture by same margin – 1-0 – at home; Rangers against Katsina United and Rivers versus FC Ifeanyi Ubah.
For the Flying Antelope, that result made it three straight wins at The Cathedral since losing on their hallowed ground 1-2 to Akwa United on February 16.
On their part, River United only got broken by Kwara United’s 1-1 in Ilorin in their last five games, which included 2-0 triumph in Okigwe against Heartland.
In 11 head-to-head clashes between Rangers and Rivers United in Enugu, the home side have won nine times and never lost, the last five encounters producing positive results for the hosts.
Lobi Stars are in Okigwe to challenge Heartland for three points. The Ortom Boys from Makurdi made their title ambition difficult having squandered maximum points in their last two home matches – 0-0 against leaders Plateau United, followed by 2-2 while hosting Kano Pillars last Sunday.
That has now kept the 2018 champions in third spot and three points behind the leaders.
Heartland also suffered reverses in recent time. Their 5-0 humiliation of bottom placed Adamawa United in Okigwe could not be sustained as two defeats – including to Rivers United at home – were to follow, in between a goalless result in Lagos against MFM.
Heartland are only two points ahead of the bottom four.
Last time away to Heartland on March 4, 2018, Lobi Stars succeeded 1-0 in Okigwe as they went ahead to win the title while Heartland got relegated being the last team on the log.
Heartland have however won their head-to-head encounters seven other times and drawn two others. Lobi were rampant when both sides last met in Makurdi winning 3-0.
Dakkada FC were sensational in the earlier part of the season. But the promoted side have since returned to normal duty, although they still feature in the elite zone of the table being in fifth place only as a result of fewer goals score compared to Sunshine Stars.
In Nnewi against FC Ifeanyi Ubah, Dakkada will be seeking their second away victory to add to the 2-0 defeat of Rangers in Enugu on November 24.
Their lone goal win over Heartland in Uyo last Sunday marked their only triumph in the last seven matches.
FC Ifenanyi Ubah, who will go for revenge having lost 0-1 in the first leg in Uyo, returned from Port Harcourt last time out with no point as Rivers United won 1-0.
They have won two times – 3-1 against Sunshine Stars and 1-0 versus MFM – in their last two home games.
Akwa United missed action a week ago because their opponents Enyimba had international match.
The Promise Keepers are in Katsina this time to hunt for points and improve their sixth position, while Katsina United, who suffered back-to-back defeats to Nasarawa United and Rangers in one week, will be determined to make amends and move up from No 12.
Kano Pillars, No 7 on the log and with a match in hand, will face Jigawa Golden Stars, who have been using the Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano this season.
The home crowd will no doubt be massive for Pillars whose last match ended 2-2 in Makurdi against Lobi Stars, on the day the Stars beat Kwara United 2-1 at the same venue of this evening’s derby.
Of the teams involved in the remaining fixtures, only Warri Wolves cannot drop to the relegation zone. Adamawa United, Kwara United and Abia Warriors are already in the red zone, while Wikki Tourists and MFM are potential candidates.
- Kano Pillars v Jigawa Golden Stars
- Rangers v Rivers United,
- Abia Warriors v Adamawa United
- Warri Wolves v MFM
- Enyimba v Sunshine Stars
- Kwara United v Wikki Tourists
- Plateau United v Nasarawa United
- Katsina United v Akwa United,
- Heartland v Lobi Stars
- FC Ifeanyi Ubah v Dakkada FC