In what is arguably the most difficult season in the professional football era in Nigeria, the 2018/2019 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) regular draws its closing curtains today, with all 12 matches being played simultaneously across all venues for the final league positions with teams battling for survival and others clawing at playoff spots.
In Group A, three teams will go head to head for the remaining two playoffs spot with Enugu Rangers already qualified from the group. Meanwhile, Niger Tornadoes and Remo Stars are already confirmed for relegation with six teams will struggling to escape from the murky waters of relegation.
Two teams will be dragged down to join the already relegated teams in the Nigeria National League (NNL).
Lobi Stars who recently lost their Head Coach Solomon Ogbeide, Enyimba Int’l and MFM will be hoping for a do-over for an opportunity to grab the two playoffs spot with away trips to Remo Stars, Katsina United and Sunshine Stars respectively.
A win for the Markurdi based side will guarantee them a second place finish which will be enough to qualify for the Super Six playoffs. However, if they draw the match, they will hope both MFM and Enyimba fail to win their matches. If they lose, they will hope that either Enyimba loses or MFM fails to win.
Enyimba, who are aiming to return to the continent after their 2017/2018 semi-final knockout, will need an outright win to be sure of qualification irrespective of results from other centers. If they manage to pick up a point, their hope will lie with MFM failing to win. A defeat in Katsina will be unfavourable for Usman Abd’Allah’s men should MFM pick up maximum points in Akure.
MFM need to win outrightly and hope Enyimba fails to win in Katsina. MFM can also qualify if they draw in Akure and Enyimba is beaten by a 6+ goal margin.
In Group A’s battle for survival, Bendel Insurance need a win in Port Harcourt to be safe and should they draw, they will hope that Katsina United, Wikki Tourists and Sunshine Stars fail to win with 3, 4 and 2 goal margins respectively. If the Benin Arsenal lose, they will hope either Katsina United and Wikki Tourists fail to win and/or Sunshine Stars fail to win with a wider margin than their defeat.
Rivers United only need to avoid a defeat at home and hope Sunshine Stars fail to win in Akure. If Sunshine wins, they will need a win or a draw [if Sunshine Stars win with just one goal] to stay afloat. A home defeat to the Pride of Rivers will make them hope Katsina United, Wikki Tourists and Sunshine Stars fail to win.
Katsina United will not be relegated if they win against Enyimba. If they pick up a draw, they will hope that Sunshine Stars fails to win and Kwara fails to win with a 5+ goal margin. A defeat for Katsina will see them hope that Wikki loses and/or Sunshine fails to win and/or Kwara do not win with a wider margin that can cut Kwara’s -6 goal margin to better their defeat margin +2.
Wikki Tourists will not be relegated if they win against Rangers. If they pick up a draw, they will hope that Sunshine Stars fails to win and Kwara fails to win with a 4+ goal margin. A defeat for Wikki will see them hope that Katsina lose and/or Sunshine fail to win and/or Kwara do not win with a wider margin that can cut Kwara’s -6 goal margin to better their defeat margin +3.
Sunshine Stars must beat MFM in Akure to be safe. If they get only a draw, they will hope Wikki and/or Katsina lose and Kwara do not win. A defeat will get them relegated outrightly.
Kwara United can qualify if they beat already relegated Tornadoes in Minna with a margin that will improve their -6 goal difference and hope Katsina and/or Wikki lose with margins that will bring down their -2 and -3 goal difference lower than the Afonja Warriors final goal difference.
In Group B, Akwa United and Kano Pillars are guaranteed of their playoff spots while four teams will battle for the remaining one slot while eight teams – three of which are playoffs hopefuls – are also locked in the battle for survival with Yobe Desert Stars already relegated. Three unlucky teams out of these eight will definitely join Yobe in the lower division next season.
FC IfeanyiUbah need a draw to qualify for the playoffs spot. They can also qualify if they lose to Akwa United in Nnewi and any of Nasarawa, Elkanemi and Delta Force fail to win with a 2 and 7 goal margin for Elkanemi and Delta Force respectively.
Nasarawa United will qualify for the playoffs if they are able to beat Yobe Desert Stars and IfeanyiUbah, Elkanemi and Delta Force lose. Interestingly, Nasarawa need to win to also escape relegation outrightly as a draw will make them hope the duo of Abia Warriors and Heartland fail to win. A defeat will also need them to also hope Abia Warriors, Heartland and this time, Gombe United fail to win.
El Kanemi Warriors will need to beat Heartland in Okigwe and hope IfeanyiUbah, Nasarawa and Delta Force lose to qualify for the playoffs. A draw or a defeat will see them hope Gombe United fail to win for a chance for survival.
Delta Force with their tall order in the form of their huge -7 goal difference will hope to win big against Plateau United and pray IfeanyiUbah lose with a very wide margin, and the duo of Nasarawa and El Kanemi lose also with wide margins. A draw or defeat will see them hope any three of Abia Warriors, Heartland, Gombe United and Go Round fail to win also.
A win for Plateau United will ensure their safety. If they record a draw or lose, they will hope that any three of Abia Warriors, Heartland, Gombe United and Go Round fail to win.
Abia Warriors will need a win and hope any of Heartland, Plateau/Delta Force, El Kanemi, Nasarawa fails to win. If they draw, they will pray that Heartland, Gombe United and Go Round fail to win. A defeat will also mar the Ochendo Boys survival unless Heartland, Gombe United and Go Round also lose.
Heartland will also need the same as Abia Warriors and both teams switch places but will also look to improve their goal difference if they eventually go want to stay afloat as they have a 1 goal disadvantage as compared to Abia Warriors.
A win for Gombe United againstGo Round will only make them safe if any three of Nasarawa defeat, Elkanemi/Heartland fail to win, Delta Force/Plateau draw and Abia Warriors fail to win.
With a -6 goal difference, only a wide margin victory for Go Round will see them qualify if they finish on the same number of points with Nasarawa, Elkanemi, Heartland, Plateau and Abia Warriors as only Delta Force have a worse goal difference.
All games are scheduled for kickoff by 4 pm.
MATCHDAY 22 FIXTURES
Wikki Tourist vs Enugu Rangers
Rivers United vs Bendel Insurance
Remo Stars vs Lobi Stars
Niger Tornadoes vs Kwara United
Katsina United vs Enyimba
Sunshine Stars vs MFM
Yobe Stars vs Nasarawa United
Go Round vs Gombe United
Delta Force vs Plateau United
Abia Warriors vs Kano Pillars
Ifeanyi Uba vs Akwa United
Heartland vs El Kanemi Warriors