With three games to the end of the regular season, Enugu Rangers and Akwa United sit pretty with healthy cushions at the top of Groups A and B respectively after Matchday 19 of the 2018/2019 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) season, however, just below them exists a state of constant flux as teams jostle for playoff spots and survival in what is shaping up to be an interesting run-in with plenty of surprises lurking in the shadows as the regular season approaches a close.
Matchday 19 wasn’t a day for penalty takers as five different players all fluffed their lines from the spot with the only successful spot kick on Sunday converted by Enyimba defender Ifeanyi Anaemena for his fifth goal of the season in his side’s 1-1 draw with Wikki Tourists in Aba. Promise Damala was on target for the visitors with the draw ensuring that Enyimba drop one spot to third in Group A.
Lobi Stars leapfrogged Enyimba and climbed two spots into second on the Group A log with a narrow 1-0 win over group leaders Enugu Rangers in Makurdi. Solomon Kwambe hit the winner in first-half added time and although the home side lost Ezekiel Otudigha to a red card in the 59th minute, they still managed to hold on for the win to cut Rangers’ lead at the top to four points.
MFM FC dropped out of the playoff spots in Group A for the first time since Matchday 2 after they could only scrap to a 1-1 draw at home to basement side Remo Stars. Victor Chidume grabbed the lead for the visitors in the first half with Elijah Akanni restoring parity for the hosts in the second half. The home side might even have lost the game if Abdul Rasheed Abiodun’s perfectly legitimate 87th-minute winner hadn’t been called off in very unclear circumstances.
Abubakar Bala was back in the dugout for 10th placed Kwara United after a brief hiatus but his presence wasn’t enough to cajole his lads to a win as they were held to a goalless draw by Rivers United in Ilorin while Sunshine Stars dispatched Niger Tornadoes 1-0 in Akure courtesy of Chibundu Amah’s 66th-minute winner.
Bendel Insurance climbed out of relegation waters and moved up two spots to 7th with a 2-1 victory over Kwara United in a match where Insurance had two penalty kicks saved by Daniel Johnson in goal for United. Adimorama Eze bagged a brace for Insurance with Tasiu Lawal notching for the visitors at the UNIBEN Sports Complex Benin.
In Group B, Akwa United’s grip on top spot remain firm after they saw off bottom side Yobe Desert Stars 1-0 courtesy of Godspower Aniefiok’s first-minute winner at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium, Uyo to maintain their six-point cushion. Philip Auta spurned a golden chance to draw the visitors level when his 33rd minute penalty was saved by Olorunleke Ojo in goal for the Promise Keepers while Mfon Udoh reciprocated on behalf of the home team as his 55th minute penalty kick struck the woodwork and with it the opportunity of being the first player to bag double figures this season. Moses Yanmar saw red for the visitors in the 75th minute.
Auwali Ali Malam and Chris Madaki first-half strikes at the Sani Abacha Stadium propelled Kano Pillars up to second in Group B in a 2-0 win over Go Round FC who drop into relegation trouble in ninth spot while Plateau United moved out of relegation waters into 7th spot with a 2-1 win over visiting Nasarawa United in Jos. Oche Odoba and Kabiru Umar, who also missed a spot-kick, were on target for the hosts after Anas Yusuf had given Nasarawa United a shock 2nd-minute lead.
El Kanemi Warriors dropped one spot to third following a shock 2-0 loss at home to Delta Force – their first such reverse at home in 1,139 days. Ufuoma Ajamikoko and Egbo Otukhe with the goals for Force while in another startling reverse in Group B, Abia Warriors came from behind to hit Heartland for four as they boosted their survival chances with a 4-2 win over the Naze Millionaires in Okigwe.
Nnamdi Egbujor and Chigozie Igoh were on target for Heartland while Ibrahim Olawoyin hit a brace with Jimoh Oni and Fatai Abdullahi getting on the score sheet for the visitors. Warriors’ newly discovered ability to hit the net have come at a most welcome time for the 10th placed club who are now just one point from safety and have now scored seven goals in their last two matches after scoring just once in the six matches before.
FC Ifeanyiubah will have the chance to move back up to second in Group B when they travel to Gombe United in Matchday 19’s final fixture today.
2018/2019 NPFL MATCH DAY 19 RESULTS
BENDEL INSURANCE 2-1 KATSINA UNITED
(Adimorama Eze 34’, 44’ – Tasiu Lawal 71’)
SUNSHINE STARS 1-0 NIGER TORNADOES
(Chibundu Amah 66’)
ENYIMBA 1-1 WIKKI TOURISTS
(Ifeanyi Anaemena 13’ (Pen) – Promise Damala 60’)
LOBI STARS 1-0 ENUGU RANGERS
(Solomon Kwambe 45+2’)
MFM 1-1 REMO STARS
(Akanni Elijah 60’ – Victor Chidume 23’)
KWARA UNITED 0-0 RIVERS UNITED
EL KANEMI WARRIORS 0-2 DELTA FORCE
(Ufuoma Ajamikoko 32’, Egbo Otukhe 90+9’)
AKWA UNITED 1-0 YOBE DESERT STARS
(Godspower Aniefiok 1’)
PLATEAU UNITED 2-1 NASARAWA UNITED
(Oche Odoba 25’, Kabiru Umar 32’ – Anas Yusuf)
HEARTLAND FC 2-4 ABIA WARRIORS
(Nnamdi Egbujor 11’, Chigozie Igoh 90+7 – Ibrahim Olawoyin 24’, 59’, Jimoh Oni 68’, Fatai Abdullahi 86’)
KANO PILLARS 2-0 GO ROUND FC
(Auwali Ali Malam 20’, Chris Madaki 39’)