Three-time Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) champions Kano Pillars on Monday confirmed their place in the season-ending Super Six playoff with an emphatic 3-0 drubbing of Delta Force in Kano in one of the full programme of activities on the penultimate Matchday of 2018/19 regular season.
Although many other matters in the league were left unresolved until the final day, Kano Pillars’ confirmation of a top-three finish and Niger Tornadoes’ relegation in Group A were settled on a day of twist-and-turns in results across the 12 match centres.
The ageless Rabiu Ali set Pillars en route to a routine victory with a 19th minute penalty before further goals in the second half from Auwalu Ali Malam and Yusuf Maigoro put Mbwas Mangut’s side to the sword and all but put paid to their late rally for a playoff spot.
In Maiduguri, FC Ifeanyiubah put themselves in pole position to join Pillars and already qualified Akwa United as Group B’s representatives with a superb 1-0 win away to El-Kanemi Warriors in a game played behind closed doors. Striker Chibuike Ezeh scored for a second game in a row to take the Anambra Warriors to just within a point of sealing a Top Three spot.
Monday’s trend of results ensured that only Yobe Desert Stars are condemned to the second tier in Group B after Gombe United, Plateau United and Go Round FC all secured results in their games, the latter denied by a last gasp goal at Nasarawa United.
Left winger Yusuf Abdulazeez’s strike in the 72nd minute gave Gombe United a 1-0 win over Heartland at the Pantami Stadium and Ladan Bosso’s men are now within one point of their visitors going into the final day while Plateau United climbed out of the relegation zone with a comfortable 2-0 win over 10-man Yobe Desert Stars courtesy of Amos Gyang (penalty) and Godwin Obaje’s goals in each half.
Go Round were just seconds away from achieving the best result of the Match Day but Abubakar Lawal’s 90th minute goal ensured honours were shared among both sides in a 2-2 draw. Joshua Osem and Chiebonam Nwogbaga gave Go Round the lead twice in the game but twice were they pegged back through goals by Sunusi Ibrahim and Lawal.
Group leaders Akwa United also left it late to deny Abia Warriors a safety net when Ocheme Edoh headed home in the 89th minute to secure a 2-2 draw for the hosts at the Nest of Champions. Midfielder Fatai Abdullahi and substitute Obi Samson twice gave Warriors shock leads in Uyo but Rafael Everton’s men replied in each situation with goals from Godspower Aniefiok and Edoh.
Striker Sikiru Alimi was once again instrumental for ‘nominal’ league champions Lobi Stars as they endured a hard-earned 2-1 win over relegation haunted Wikki Tourists in Makurdi.
Lobi needed maximum points to move within touching distance of qualification for the Super Six and they did just exactly that, once again through the help of Alimi.. They had to break the resistance of a stubborn Wikki side in the 49th minute through Austin Ogunye’s header but after Ukeme Williams had replied for Aliyu Zubair’s Wikki, Alimi once again delivered the goods with an 81st minute winner.
Ten-man Enyimba FC also moved within touching distance of qualification with a 2-0 win over Niger Tornadoes at the Enyimba Stadium in Aba, a result which confirmed the demotion of their opponents to the second tier of Nigerian football.
Captain Ifeanyi Anaemena gave the hosts the lead from the penalty spot in first half stoppage time before Ibrahim Mustapha, making a return after a lengthy injury layoff made sure of the points in the 70th minute. Left back Nasiru Sani was however sent off late in the game by referee Paul Umuago.
In Lagos, MFM FC showed a rare resilience they had not displayed in recent weeks when they dug deep to beat Katsina United 2-1 and ensure the race for the final two Top 3 spots in Group A will go down to the wire.
Fidelis Ilechukwu’s men defied the rain and obstinacy of their visitors to grind out the win at the Agege Stadium. Adeniji Kabir ended his goals drought to steer them in front in the 10th minute but defender Timothy Danladi equalised for Katsina early in the second half. Substitute Michael Ohanu however claimed the full marks for MFM when he headed home Jonathan Zikiye’s cross deep into stoppage time.
Group A leaders Rangers International ended Rivers United’s hopes of a hopeful top three finish with an excruciating 1-0 defeat inflicted on Stanley Eguma’s men. United still kept their hopes of leaving Enugu with at least a point in tact until wing back Chidera Ezeh struck the decisive blow five minutes from time.
Kwara United ensured they preserve their Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) status till the final day with an expected 2-1 win over already relegated Remo Stars. All goals were scored in the final 16 minutes of the tensed game in Ilorin. Uche Onwuasonaya and Razaq Alamoyo put United two-goal up before Victor Mbaoma’s stoppage time strike halved the deficit.
Bendel Insurance also stayed alive with a 1-0 win over ten-man Sunshine Stars in a relegation six-pointer in Benin City. Despite putting up a defensive 5-3-2 shape, Kabiru Dogo’s Sunshine conceded within the opening four minutes through Junior Osaghae’s strike and they had no reply with their case exacerbated with a straight sending off for centre back Gabriel Olalekan late on.
By Oyediji Oluwaseun Babatunde