Enugu Rangers and Akwa United secured their places in the postseason playoffs just as Remo Stars and Yobe Desert Stars sealed their relegation fates following Match Day 20 encounters on Wednesday and Thursday in the 2018/2019 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).
With just two games left of the regular season, Rangers and Akwa United – both table toppers in Groups A and B respectively – are assured of a place in the six-team playoffs in the postseason while Group A bottom side Remo Stars and their counterparts in Group B, Yobe Desert Stars are assured of losing their top-flight status with Desert Stars guaranteed to finish bottom of Group B even with if they win their last two games. However, teams from 8th to 2nd in both groups still stand mathematical chances of making the playoffs although Match Day 21 will present a much clearer picture.
Rangers ensured an extension to their season by earning passage into the playoffs with a narrow 1-0 victory over Bendel Insurance at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium. Felix Ogbuke scored in the 85th minute to earn the Flying Antelopes a hard-fought win over Insurance who fall into the relegation places one point adrift of safety in 9th spot. With only three teams qualifying for the postseason playoffs, Rangers’ haul of 37 points in Group A puts them beyond the reach of 4th placed MFM who have 29 points and Rangers cannot now be caught by any teams outside the top three.
Lobi Stars maintained their hold on second spot, six points behind Rangers with a creditable 1-1 draw away at fifth-placed Rivers United who will rue a missed opportunity to thrust themselves firmly in the hunt for a playoff spot. Kunle Odunlami’s own goal put Lobi ahead in the 26th minute before Adebambo Ademola leveled matters for the hosts in the 61st minute.
Victor Chidume was sent off for relegated Remo Stars in their drab goalless stalemate at home to third-placed Enyimba in Sagamu while Niger Tornadoes earned a morale-boosting 1-0 win over MFM courtesy of Ismail Sarki’s 2nd-minute effort at the Bako Kontagora Stadium in Minna to give impetus to their unlikely bid for survival.
While fourth-placed MFM seemed to have gone off the boil with no win in three matches and look in danger of missing the playoffs having been in the top three for 17 Match Days, Tornadoes on the other hand looked dead and buried a few weeks ago but have lost just once in their past six matches and are now five points from safety in 10th place.
Wikki Tourists compounded the woes of relegation-threatened Kwara United with a 2-1 victory at home to the Ilorin based side. Williams Ukeme and Abdullahi Musa put Wikki two goals up before Issa Magaji halved the deficit for the visitors. United drop to 11th on 21 points below Tornadoes on goals difference and five points adrift of safety.
In the final Group A game, Eric Gwammy, Martins Usule, and Tasiu Lawal all hit the target in the first half to give Katsina United a 3-1 victory at home to Sunshine Stars. United in 6th place and on 27 points still harbor faint hopes of making the playoffs.
In Group B, league’s leading scorer Mfon Udoh’s tenth goal of the season was not enough to prevent Akwa United from falling to a 2-1 loss away at Delta Force for whom Egbo Otukhe was sent off in second-half added time. Udoh, who had missed a penalty against Yobe Desert Stars last time out made no such mistakes after Godspower Aniefiok had been fouled in the box, expertly dispatching the resultant spot kick to halve the deficit after Force had gone ahead through strikes from Christian Ekong and Anayo Iwuala.
Despite the reverse, United’s place in the playoffs is assured after amassing a healthy lead to straddle Group B with 37 points, seven points more than fourth-placed FC Ifeanyi Ubah. Making the playoffs marks a remarkable turnaround for Rafael Everton’s side who started the season without a win in their opening four games while Delta Force in the league in place of Kada Stars, could yet make the playoffs as they sit fifth level on points with third-placed El Kanemi Warriors but with an inferior goals difference.
Kano Pillars consolidated their hold on second spot with a 1-0 victory away at already relegated Yobe Desert Stars to put themselves three points short of sealing their spot in the playoffs while third-placed El Kanemi Warriors lost 2-1 away to resurgent Abia Warriors who have now won three on the trot to move to 8th spot and out of relegation waters for the first time in almost two months. Samson Obi scored a 96th-minute penalty for Emmanuel Deutsch’s side to earn Warriors a last gasp come from behind victory that boosts their survival hopes.
Fourth-placed FC Ifeanyiubah suffered a surprising 2-1 loss at home to relegation-threatened Heartland FC who recovered from a 4-2 drubbing at home to Abia Warriors last time out to earn a win that catapults them to 7th place and two points above the relegation places in Group B. Dikko Popnen and a sublime freekick from Uche Oguchi put Heartland two goals up and although Chibuike Eze reduced the deficit for the hosts, Heartland managed to hold on for the crucial victory.
In the battle for survival, 9th placed Go Round FC will rue a missed opportunity to move out of relegation trouble after they labored to a 1-1 draw at home to Plateau United who stay above them on goals difference while 6th placed Nasarawa United remain on course for a playoff berth after they saw off second from bottom Gombe United 2-1 at the Lafia Township Stadium.
2018/2019 NPFL MATCH DAY 19 RESULTS
KATSINA UNITED 3-1 SUNSHINE STARS
(Eric Gwammy 18’ Martins Usule 21’, Tasiu Lawal 45+2’ – Chigozie Obasi 75’)
NIGER TORNADOES 1-0 MFM
(Ismail Sarki 2’)
REMO STARS 0-0 ENYIMBA
WIKKI TOURISTS 2-1 KWARA UNITED
(Williams Ukeme 33’, Abdullahi Musa 61’ – Issa Magaji 78’)
ENUGU RANGERS 1-0 BENDEL INSURANCE
(Felix Ogbuke 85’)
RIVERS UNITED 1-1 LOBI STARS
(Adebambo Ademola 61’ – Kunle Odunlami 26’ (OG))
DELTA FORCE 2-1 AKWA UNITED
(Christian Ekong 14’, Anayo Iwuala 49’ – Mfon Udoh 71 (Pen))
YOBE DESERT STARS 0-1 KANO PILLARS
(Adamu Hassan 10’)
GO ROUND FC 1-1 PLATEAU UNITED 2-1 NASARAWA UNITED
(Chiebonam Nwogbaga 41’ – Kabiru Umar 63’)
FC IFEANYIUBAH 1-2 HEARTLAND FC
(Chibuike Eze 71’ – Dikko Popnen 38’, Uche Oguchi 53’)
ABIA WARRIORS 2-1 EL KANEMI WARRIORS
(Atilola Tunde Salami 39’, Samson Obi 90+6 (Pen) – Sulley Mohammed 2’)
NASARAWA UNITED 2-1 GOMBE UNITED
(Adeshina Thomas 28’, Anas Yusuf 37’ – Adamu Mohammed 47’)