Enyimba defender Nelson Ogbonnaya scored the first goal of the 2018/2019 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) season in his team’s 2 – 0 victory at home to MFM FC while Akwa United got their season to a disastrous start with a loss at home to El Kanemi Warriors for whom Ba’akaka Ajikolo scored the last goal of Match-day one.
The opening round of fixtures in both Group A and B featured seven goals, a missed penalty, an own goal, an away win, two draws and three home wins with just one fixture failing to provide any goals.
214 days had elapsed since the last game in the NPFL between Heartland FC and Enyimba International and the start of the new season and one would have to go even further back for the last time El Kanemi won away from home – a one nil victory away at Abia Warriors on the 19th of February 2017.
Akwa United featuring six debutants including former Enyimba captain Mfon Udoh, former Abia Warriors striker Ndifreke Effiong and Brazilian Alberico da Silva in attack and the trio of Juwon Oshaniwa, Wilson Elu and Emeka Atuloma in midfield found it difficult prising open the side from Maiduguri.
With the game goalless approaching full time, Akwa’s goalkeeper Olorunleke Ojo inexplicably lost the ball in the centre circle, El Kanemi pounced and substitute Ba’akaka Ajikolo fired in the match winner into the gaping goal in the 94th minute to stun the home fans at the Nest of Champions and leave newly appointed Akwa United manager Rafael Everton worried about his job prospects. El-Kanemi have now won each of their last three games against the Promise Keepers.
Over at the Enyimba Stadium in Aba, former MFM players Chukwuka Onuwa and Stanley Okorom were listed on the bench for Enyimba as Usman Abd’Allah in his first full season in charge looked to maintain the Peoples Elephant unbeaten run against the Olukoya Boys having never lost in five previous meetings against the Lagos team (W1 D4) and keeping a clean sheet in four of those.
Nelson Ogbonnaya nodded the Peoples Elephant in front in the 13th minute with Abdulrahman Bashir doubling their lead in the 54th minute. Onuwa was introduced in the 67th minute for his Enyimba debut against his former side as the Aba side held on for a two-nil victory.
In Kano, Sunday Chinedu’s 16th-minute effort was enough to give Kano Pillars a one nil victory over Heartland FC at the Sani Abacha Stadium and hand interim Head Coach Kabiru Baleria a winning start. Heartland who unveiled 22 new players for the season now have just one clean sheet in their last 21 games.
Sunshine Stars unbeaten in their last six against Kwara United recorded a hugely creditable draw away to the Ilorin-based side. Franklin Sasere put Sunshine Stars ahead just before half time after Kwara had spurned the chance to take the lead when Segun Alebiosu missed from the spot in the 10th minute.
Seun Olulayo diverted Usman Mohammed’s cross into his own net in the 68th minute to hand Kwara a lifeline and ensure the spoils were shared in Ilorin.
Nasarawa United brought Abia Warriors record of never losing an opening league fixture to an end courtesy of Abdullahi Abubakar whose 20th-minute strike condemned the side from Abia to defeat in Lafia. Abia Warriors had never tasted defeat in five previous league openers dating back to their debut season in the NPFL in 2014 (W3 D2).
Newly appointed Plateau United manager Abdu Maikaba handed winger Sikiru Olatunbosun a debut start for 2017 NPFL champions who were held to a barren draw by FC Ifeanyi Ubah in Jos.
Olatunbosun who signed for the club from MFM FC in the close season was on for 73 minutes but couldn’t help his side find a goal against a youthful FC Ifeanyi Ubah side in what was the only goalless draw of the opening round of the 2018/2019 NPFL season.
In all, six matches were played on the opening day with six other fixtures postponed for teams with continental engagements and newly promoted clubs who were given extra time to recover and bolster their squads.
Enyimba are top of Group A with three points while El Kanemi, Kano Pillars and Nasarawa United share the lead in Group B.
2018/2019 NPFL MATCH-DAY ONE RESULTS
Enyimba International 2 – 0 MFM FC (Nelson Ogbonnaya 13’, Abdulrahman Bashir 54’).
Akwa United 0 – 1 El Kanemi Warriors (Ba’akaka Ajikolo 90+4).
Kano Pillars 1 –0 Heartland FC (Sunday Chinedu 16’).
Kwara United 1 – 1 Sunshine Stars (Seun Olulayo og 68; Franklin Sasere 45+1).
Nasarawa United 1 – 0 Abia Warriors (Abdullahi Abubakar 20’)
Plateau United 0 – 0 FC Ifeanyi Ubah.