DESPITE CORONAVIRUS, NIGERIA FOOTBALL LEAGUE MARCHES ON

BY MUYIWA AKINTUNDE

Like most public activities, football has been shut down in most continents following COVID-19 outbreaks. But the League Management Company says the NPFL will go on as the country remains safe for football activities.

In an interview with The Punch, LMC Chairman, Shehu Dikko assured that preventive measures for fans, players, officials and all are in place, while the situation is being monitored to determine appropriate actions.

As the combatants file out at 10 venues this evening for Week 25 matches, the jostle for the title, continental tickets and retaining top flight status continues at different fronts.

Plateau United v Kwara United

Three seasons ago, Plateau United lifted the title with only four points separating them and runners-up MFM. At this point in the ongoing term, the Jos side have established a four-point advantage at the summit and rearing to go and claim the league for the second time in their history. 

Plateau have a date with Kwara United at the New Jos Stadium this evening. On that ground, Abdu Maikaba squad have dropped only only four points in 12 matches this season, resulting from Kano Pillars and Akwa United playing goalless.

The visitors Kwara United are in deep trouble as they are two steps up bottom placed Adamawa United. The Harmony Boys had failed to win in six straight matches – including a lone goal home loss to Lobi Stars. They struggled to beat Wikki Tourists last Sunday in Ilorin.

In the first leg on November 24, Kwara United lost 1-3. A repeat – or an improved – performance is what Plateau United seek at home.

Rivers United v Warri Wolves

In chasing the leaders, second placed Rivers United must be mindful of a slip up. On their heels are Lobi Stars, who are just two points short and desperate to make up for a recent dip in form.

United have to make up for the lone goal setback in Enugu against Rangers last Sunday, their first defeat in seven matches. 

Heartland, Abia Warriors and Wikki Tourists have each picked a point at Yakubu Gowon Stadium in Port Harcourt this season, while the other nine sides crashed.

United can’t afford to be complacent against Warri Wolves, who have won twice and drawn four times on the road in their return to the NPFL. The Seasiders occupy the last spot in the upper half of the table and can have an improved standing.

Wolves nurse a grudge against United who left Warri Township Stadium with all points in the first leg.

Lobi Stars v FC Ifeanyi Ubah

Lobi Stars provided a stiff chase of Plateau United in the first half of the season, but the Ortom Boys have since fallen short allowing Rivers United to take their place at No 2.

The 2018/19 champions disappointed their fans in their last two home games which ended 2-2 and goalless respectively against Kano Pillars and leaders Plateau United.

Unless Rivers United capitulate in their own fixture, Lobi Stars will remain at No 3 even if they beat their visitors with whom they finished goalless in Nnewi in their first encounter this season.

Ifeanyi Ubah are bad travellers. In 12 away games, they have picked just one point from their 1-1 deadlock in Lagos against MFM.

Wikki Tourists v Kano Pillars

Two back-to-back losses to Rivers United (1-2) and Rangers (0-1) appear to have condemned Pillars to a miserable season. But the four-time winners have since bounced back and were triumphant in two of their last three matches while drawing the other.

Now fourth on the log, Pillars are chasing continental qualification, which is open to the top three.

Presently six points adrift of Lobi Stars, Masu Gida go after their second away victory having beaten Dakkada FC by a lone goal in Uyo earlier in the season.

Wikki Tourists got beaten 0-1 by Plateau United the last time they played at home. It turned out to be their second loss on their own ground after Sunshine Stars prevailed 2-1 on Matchday 14.

In the relegation zone, the Bauchi team, who played goalless with Pillars in the first leg, have their job well cut out. Another setback will just compound their woes.

Dakkada FC v Rangers

Fifth placed Rangers are on a high after winning three of their last four matches and sharing honours with MFM in Lagos in the other, while Dakkada have pulled only one win, one draw and two defeats within the same period.

The Flying Antelopes are seeking to pay Dakkada back in their own bad coins given that the newly promoted side won 2-0 in Enugu in the first leg.

Nasarawa United v Akwa United

Akwa United will be playing away for the second time in a row. The Promise Keepers’ last outing on Sunday ended 1-1 against Katsina United, their second point in three matches.

In their last three matches as well, victory over Katsina United sandwiched two defeats for Nasarawa United.

The Uniteds – Akwa and Nasarawa – were united in scoreline in the first leg in Uyo, which finished 1-1.

Sunshine Stars v Katsina United

Sunshine Stars received a heavy loss in Aba last time out with Enyimba pumping in three goals.

Back in Akure, the Owena Waves have to show character as they chase their eighth home victory having recorded five draws on that ground this term.

It’s a revenge-seeking Stars that are expected to file out this evening having lost 0-2 in the first leg to Katsina United.

Katsina United have themselves not had a good run. Only one win in four matches have United placed 13th on the log, only three points above the drop zone.

Adamawa United v Enyimba

Title holders Enyimba will file out at Pantanmi Stadium in Gombe against the last team on the log, Adamawa United, who are on a free fall.

In five recent matches, the hosts have won just one and lost the others. They have been defeated four times in front of their fans – to Lobi Stars, Rivers United, Sunshine Stars and Warri Wolves.

Enyimba are the title challengers that Plateau United will not like to have close on their heels as they have the experience to grab the top spot. With five outstanding matches accumulated as a result of their continental assignment, Enyimba are 13 points behind the log leaders.

With six wins in their last seven domestic fixtures, the People’s Elephants have struck the right form at the right time.

Adamawa United are struggling for points and have picked only three in their last four games, which came from their 2-1 result over Ifeanyi Ubah in Gombe on Matchday 21.

Enyimba won the first leg 2-0 in Aba.

Jigawa Golden Stars v Heartland

Heartland will be coming to this fixture on a high having dimmed Lobi Stars 2-0 last Sunday to steer clear of trouble, on the same day Jigawa Golden Stars lost 0-2 to Kano Pillars at Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano, the temporary base of Jigawa Golden Stars.

Jigawa, who lost 0-1 in Okigwe in the reverse fixture, may be lifted out of the relegation zone if they win.

MFM v Abia Warriors

MFM have given their fans much to worry about this season. Their last two games at Agege Township Stadium ended goalless (versus Rangers and Heartland), while their last seven away matches have brought no point.

Last Sunday’s victory over visiting Adamawa United will inspire Abia Warriors in Lagos this evening.

But with nine defeats on the road out of 12 matches, Abia Warriors should not pose much problem for MFM.