The final round of matches in the regular Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) season holds on Sunday, with two teams expected to join Niger Tornadoes and Remo Stars to the lower division from Group A, while three others are expected to drop alongside Yobe Desert Stars from Group B.
Npfl.ng previews what could be an intriguing day of action across 12 different venues in the country.
Aside from Rangers International, Lobi Stars, Enyimba International and playoff chasing MFM of Lagos, six teams (Bendel Insurance, Rivers United, Katsina United, Wikki Tourists, Sunshine Stars and Kwara United) are faced with difficult task of beating the drop, as only two of these six teams play themselves (Rivers United v Bendel Insurance).
Rivers United as at Matchday 17 were relishing the prospects of a playoff spot, but that dream went up in smoke on Matchday 21 when they were beaten 1-0 by Rangers International in Enugu. They face Bendel Insurance, who got promoted to the top flight in the previous campaign. A draw for both sides could be enough to keep them in the premier division, but the outcome of Rivers United and Bendel Insurance’s clash in Port Harcourt, will also be dependent on what transpires between Sunshine Stars and MFM FC at the Akure Township Stadium. Rivers United and Bendel Insurance are on 28 points apiece, a win with two goals advantage for Sunshine Stars and draw in Port Harcourt could turn the tide, as all three teams could end up on 29 points, with Rivers United going into the matchday with a zero goal difference.
Katsina United could also avoid the drop if they beat seven-time champions Enyimba at home. A win for Abdullahi Biffo’s men could take them to 30 points, but the task seems a difficult challenge as the visitors Enyimba FC are aware if they slip in Katsina, MFM FC could leapfrog them to the third playoff spot, if the Lagos side win in Akure, away to Sunshine Stars.
Wikki Tourists host leader Rangers International, who have already qualified for the playoff. A win for Aliyu Zubairu’s men in their adopted home ground (the Pantami Stadium in Gombe), could see them take their points haul to 30 and that should guaranteed their safety. Kwara United also are with a slight chance of beating the drop, as they travel to already-relegated Niger Tornadoes. Kwara United’s chances will solely be dependent on matches from other venues. While Rivers United host Insurance in Port Harcourt, Kwara United could drop neither of them to the relegation zone if they secure a win in Minna.
While others will be hoping to survive on Sunday, Lobi Stars will be hoping to cement their place in the playoff, when the visit Remo Stars at Sagamu, with the latter already planning for life in the lower division.
Akwa United, Kano Pillars and FC Ifeanyiubah are the only teams that are safe. With Akwa and Pillars having secured their places in the playoff on Matchdays 20 and 21 respectively, FC Ifeanyiubah will be hoping to do so on Matchday 22, when the host Akwa.
FC Ifeanyiubah need only a draw against the Uyo-based side to book their place in the Super-6. Defeat for them, could mean Nasarawa United, El-Kanemi Warriors and Delta Force could leapfrog them to third spot, if they secure wins in their respectively games.
If such scenario emerges, Nasarawa United can pick the final playoff spot, by securing a win away to already-relegated Yobe Stars, while El-Kanemi will need to win with two goals advantage at the Okigwe Township Stadium, against Heartland FC. However, given the same scenario of FC Ifeanyiubah slipping at home, Delta Force might need to get an eight-goal haul to improve their goals difference when they host relegation-threatened Plateau United.
Also banking on a positive result on Sunday to qualify for the playoff, any of Nasarawa United, El-Kanemi and Delta Force could also be relegated if Plateau United, Abia Warriors, Heartland, Gombe United and Go Round secure wins in their respectively games.
Maikaba’s Plateau United could be relegated if they fail to secure at least a point in Asaba away to Delta Force depending on results elsewhere. A draw for the 2017 champions might just not be enough to keep them in the top division if Heartland FC get a win at home to El-Kanemi Warriors in Okigwe.
Abia Warriors’ 2-2 draw in Uyo on Matchday 21, may not be enough to guarantee their safety, as they need to finish the job against Kano Pillars at the Umuahia Township Stadium. Abia Warriors are level on 28 points with Heartland, with a better goals difference than their neighbours and may need to score more goals to avert danger, assuming the Owerri side improve on their goals difference with a big margin win (against El-Kanemi), and the rest of the teams threatened by relegation win their respective games.
Gombe United and Go Round have outside chances of beating the drop, but one of them will have to experience life in the lower league as both teams clash in Omoku on Sunday. A draw could still see both teams relegated, but a win could salvage one of them. Go Round are however disadvantaged, with a negative goals difference of six, meaning they need to win with a margin of at least five or six goals, to stand a chance, depending on results from other venues.
All games are billed to kickoff by 4pm this Sunday at the 12 different venues.
Wikki Tourists v Rangers
Rivers United v Bendel Insurance
Remo Stars v Lobi Stars
Niger Tornadoes v Kwara United
Katsina United v Enyimba
Sunshine Stars v MFM
Yobe Stars v Nasarawa United
Go Round v Gombe United
Delta Force v Plateau United
Abia Warriors v Kano Pillars
FC Ifeanyiubah v Akwa United
Heartland FC v El-Kanemi
By Oyediji Oluwaseun Babatunde