Eighteen years after winning their first title and four years after their last, Enyimba of Aba have been crowned champions of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) for an unprecedented eighth time after they finished in first place in the six-team post-season 2018/2019 NPFL Championship Playoffs which ended on Wednesday.
The Peoples Elephant finished with twelve points from five matches to emerge champions ahead of Kano Pillars who earned one point less in second place and Enugu Rangers who finished in third place with nine points.
Enyimba have now won the topflight in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2010, 2015 and 2019.
Akwa United, Lobi Stars, and FC Ifeanyiubah – who failed to win a single game – finished fourth, fifth and sixth respectively.
The top three clubs have thus qualified to represent Nigeria on the continent with Enyimba and Kano Pillars securing slots in the CAF Champions League while Rangers will once again play in the CAF Confederation Cup after they reached the group stages of that competition last season.
Three clubs entered the final Match Day with a chance of winning the league title but it was Usman Abd’Allah’s side who once again cemented their status as Nigeria’s biggest club side with a 3-0 obliteration of rivals Akwa United who had haboured slim hopes of a first-ever domestic topflight title.
Enyimba’s victory also meant Kano Pillars who played after them took to the field in the knowledge that their dreams of winning a fifth domestic title were in tatters. This scenario could have been avoided if both games had been played simultaneously but for whatever reasons, the League Management Company (LMC) failed to anticipate such a situation not that Enyimba would care.
They had taken to the field in the knowledge that a victory would seal the title win for them and they went about the fixture in business like fashion against a disappointing Akwa United who were without their Brazilian trio – head coach Rafael Everton, his assistant, and player Alberico Da Silva.
It later emerged that the Brazilian had been sacked in the aftermath of the damaging 0-0 draw against Lobi Stars on Match Day 5.
In his absence, Abasiakan Windy took charge of the team but was unable from preventing the Promise Keepers from suffering a crushing defeat which brought a season that had much promise to a disappointing end.
Goals from Reuben Bala – a league champion with Plateau United in 2017, Stanley Dimgba and Abdulrahman Bashir saw Usman Abd’Allah lift his first ever domestic topflight title while goalkeeper Theophilus Afelokhai won a fifth title after winning four with Kano Pillars.
In the first game of the day, Rangers defeated FC Ifeanyiubah 4-2 to put themselves in contention for a continental slot which was then confirmed by Akwa’s loss.
The 4-2 scoreline raised suspicions of possible match-fixing after a tweet posted hours before the game from the UK alleged that the match had been compromised and would finish with that scoreline. Bookmakers later suspended betting on that scoreline after noticing suspicious betting patterns.
Rangers’ victory put them on eight points, level with Kano Pillars who then had to avoid defeat in their game against Lobi Stars to ensure a Champions League slot. Pillars went one further and secured a victory courtesy of Ifeanyi Nweke’s 73rd-minute spot kick to seal a return to champions league football.
2018/2019 NPFL CHAMPIONSHIP PLAYOFFS MATCH DAY 5 RESULTS
FC IFEANYIUBAH 2-4 RANGERS
(Chibuike Ezeh 51’, 55’ – Chiamaka Madu 7’, Jimoh Gbadamosi 42’ (OG), Christian Madu 50’, Godwin Aguda 64’ (Pen))
ENYIMBA 3-0 AKWA UNITED
(Reuben Bala 43’, Stanley Dimgba 60’, Abdulrahman Bashir 89’)
LOBI STARS 0-1 KANO PILLARS
(Ifeanyi Nweke 73’ (Pen)