Kano Pillars have qualified for the post-season playoffs behind Akwa United in Group B following a 3-0 thrashing of Delta Force in Kano on Match Day 21 of the 2018/2019 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) season, while Niger Tornadoes will start next season in the second tier after they lost 2-0 at Enyimba in Group A.
Although there remains just one game in the regular season, the stakes couldn’t be any higher with relegation and playoff places still up for grabs as the league hits the home straight.
In Group A, fourth-placed MFM are still in with a chance of making the playoffs while every other team below them with the exception of already relegated Niger Tornadoes and Remo Stars could yet make the drop to the lower tier. It is a similar story in Group B where third to sixth are still in with a shot at the playoffs and just three points separate 4th from 11th.
Pillars have found form just in time to make the push for the playoffs and their victory over Delta Force at the Kufor Mata Stadium in Kano was their fourth in five matches. Midfield stalwart Rabiu Ali got things going when he converted from the spot to give the three-time league champions the lead in the 19th minute. Further goals in the second half from Auwalu Ali Malam and Yusuf Maigoro condemned the 6th visitors to a 3-0 defeat which leaves Force three points off a playoff place.
Group B leaders Akwa United, already through to the post-season playoffs, were held at the Nest of Champions by an enterprising Abia Warriors who are well and truly in full survival mode. Warriors who only exited relegation on Match Day 20 after spending nearly two months looking all but doomed to the lower tier, have now extended their unbeaten run to four matches and remain outside the relegation zone on goals difference. United did well to come back through Godspower Aniefiok and a late Ocheme Edoh goal to earn a 2-2 draw after Fatai Abdullahi and Samson Obi twice put the visitors in front.
Third-placed FC Ifeanyiubah priceless 1-0 win away at El Kanemi Warriors in Maiduguri courtesy of Chibuike Eze’s 78th-minute winner leaves them needing just a point to seal a playoff spot. Warriors who held top spot jointly with Akwa United for a while have strangely gone off the boil and find themselves in a slump after suffering a third straight loss.
Go Round FC were left heartbroken when a last-gasp equalizer by Abubakar Lawal denied them a life-saving victory at Nasarawa United and left them one point from safety in eleventh place. Joshua Osem’s first-half opener for the Omoku based side was canceled by Sunusi Ibrahim, Chiebonam Nwogbaga however restored the visitors’ advantage in the second half but Lawal scored in second-half added time to make the scores 2-2 and deny the visitors a much-needed victory.
Yusuf Abdulazeez scored the lone goal for Gombe United in their 1-0 win over ninth-placed Heartland FC at the Pantani Stadium to leave Gombe within one point from safety in tenth while Plateau United put further daylight between them and the drop with a 2-0 victory over already condemned Yobe Desert Stars in Jos. Amos Gyang and Godwin Obaje with the goals for the hosts.
In Group A, leaders Enugu Rangers put paid to Rivers United’s slim playoff hopes with a 1-0 defeat of Stanley Eguma’s wards in Aba with Chidera Ezeh netting the winner for the Flying Antelopes. The result also confirms that Rangers will finish as Group A winners.
Second-placed Lobi Stars – whose head coach Solomon Ogbeide was confirmed dead minutes after kickoff – got the win they needed to keep their playoff hopes alive by dispatching eighth-placed Wikki Tourists 2-1 at the Aper Aku Stadium in Makurdi. The shocking news of Ogbeide’s demise was kept from the players who took to the field oblivious of events off it. Sikiri Alimi scored the precious winner for the home side after Wikki’s Ukeme Williams had canceled Austin Ogunye’s opener for Lobi Stars.
Ifeanyi Anaemena’s sixth of the season and a strike from Ibrahim Mustapha who was making a first start following a lengthy injury lay-off ensured that third-placed Enyimba kept their playoffs destiny in their hands with a 2-0 victory over Niger Tornadoes in Aba. The defeat consigned Tornadoes to the second tier and left Enyimba who lost Nasiru Sani to a red card needing a victory on the last day to guarantee a place in the post-season playoffs.
Fourth-placed MFM kept the heat on Enyimba and Lobi Stars and put themselves in a position to profit from any last day slip-ups from both teams with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Katsina United at the Agege Stadium in Lagos. Jonathan Zikiye scored the all-important winner for the home side in the 90th minute after Timothy Danladi had pegged back MFM following Adeniji Kabir’s opener.
Bendel Insurance won the battle of the relegation-threatened teams with a slim 1-0 victory over Sunshine Stars in Benin. Junior Osaghae’s 4th-minute effort was enough to earn Insurance a result which helps them up to fifth on the log and two points above the drop while Stars, one point from safety need a victory on last day of the regular season while hoping other results go their way to have any hopes of staying up.
Tenth-placed Kwara United stayed execution on their top-flight status for one more week with a 2-1 win over already-relegated Remo Stars in Ilorin. Uche Onwuasoanya and Razaq Alamoyo second-half strikes put United two up before Victor Mbaoma netted a late consolation for the visitors.
2018/2019 NPFL MATCH DAY 19 RESULTS
BENDEL INSURANCE 1-0 SUNSHINE STARS
(Junior Osaghae 4’)
MFM FC 2-1 KATSINA UNITED
(Adeniji Kabir 10’, Jonathan Zikiye 90’ – Timothy Danladi 50’)
ENYIMBA 2-0 NIGER TORNADOES
(Ifeanyi Anaemena 45+5 (Pen), Ibrahim Mustapha 70’)
KWARA UNITED 2-1 REMO STARS
(Uche Onwuasoanya 74’ Razaq Alamoyo 79’ – Victor Mbaoma 90+2’)
ENUGU RANGERS 1-0 RIVERS UNITED
(Chidera Ezeh 78’)
LOBI STARS 2-1 WIKKI TOURISTS
(Austin Ogunye 49’ Sikiru Alimi 81’ – Ukeme Williams 68’)
AKWA UNITED 2-2 ABIA WARRIOS
(Godspower Aniefiok 81’, Ocheme Edoh 89’ – Fatai Abdullahi 29’, Samson Obi 82’)
KANO PILLARS 3-1 DELTA FORCE
(Rabiu Ali 19’ (Pen), Auwalu Ali Malam 47’, Yusuf Maigoro 57’)
NASARAWA UNITED 2-2 GO ROUND FC
(Sunusi Ibrahim 65’, Abubakar Lawal 90’ – Joshua Osem 38’, Chiebonam Nwogbaga 75”)
EL KANEMI WARRIORS 0-1 FC IFEANYIUBAH
(Chibuike Ezeh 78’)
GOMBE 1-0 HEARTLAND FC
(Yusuf Abdulazeez 72’)
PLATEAU UNITED 2-0 YOBE DESERT STARS
(Amos Gyang 30’ (Pen), Godwin Obaje 82’)