Table-toppers Akwa United could surrender their place at the top of the pile in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) this weekend as they have had their Matchday 10 game against Heartland postponed until a new date, but second-placed Kano Pillars and Enyimba in fourth position are lurking to take top spot.
Akwa United and champions Plateau United have been excused from playing Heartland and Go Round FC after midweek games on the continent after their arrival into the country would come few hours before the kickoff of Matchday 10.
Four-time champions Kano Pillars start the day level on points with Akwa United but have a contest in their hands when they square up against Enugu Rangers at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium this Sunday. Pillars have only won once in that ground in their last 15 visits.
When both teams meet this Sunday, it will be exactly 2,429 calendar days when Kano Pillars won inside the Nnamdi Azikiwe. They defeated Rangers 1-0 on their patch through Musa Musa’s second half strike. However since that defeat at home on July 3, 2011, the Flying Antelopes have won the last meetings of this same fixture.
Gbenga Ogunbote has instilled a new defending ethos at Rangers unlike his predecessor Imama Amapakabo who preferred to set up his team to play from the front. After a poor start to the campaign, the Flying Antelopes are gradually becoming mean at the back. They currently are yet to concede in their last three games, in fact the last team (Nasarawa United) to breach their defence did so from the spot at the death.
Kano Pillars going into Sunday’s game with impressive numbers – currently on a run of four clean sheets (the most by any team), one of the top-scoring sides, just one defeat in nine matches and the leading top scorer Junior Lokosa in their fold. These ingredients make Ibrahim Musa’s men a difficult opposition.
Rangers defence would already have bookmarked Lokosa as the main threat to stop as he has accounted for 66 percent of Kano Pillars’ total goals this season. Lokosa has also scored two of his club’s three away goals. However Pillars are not just about the former First Bank FC striker as Rabiu Ali, Nyima Nwagua, Alassan Ibrahim, Victor Dennis and Emmanuel Anyanwu add to quality to their team.
One man will surely be missed in the heart of the Kano club’s defence. Chinedu Udoji. The centre-back died in an auto crash last Sunday just few hours after featuring in the 1-1 draw with Enyimba. Pillars coach Musa said to npfl.ng about the late defender: “I still find it hard to accept he is gone. His death has left a big vacuum and pain among us as a team because he was a total professional and has a very big heart. But we will give our best to play for him.”
Interestingly, Rangers have managed just six goals in nine matches. So it means Lokosa has scored more than the whole of Ogunbote’s squad. It appears the focus has been on ensuring they do not concede as Kelvin Itoya, who has been on the fringes, is their top scorer with two goals.
The Flying Antelopes’ lean scoring spell is also evident in their last three results at home – 1-0 wins over Katsina United, Rivers United and El-Kanemi Warriors.
Enyimba, like their arch-rivals Kano Pillars, also will have their sights on top spot. Akure side Sunshine Stars stand in their way. The People’s Elephant are favourites ahead of this contest and are on a six-game unbeaten run with Stanley Dimgba shouldering goalscoring responsbility. Dimgba comes face-to-face with his former team this Sunday at the UJ Esuene Stadium in Calabar.
The Akure Gunners, or Owena Waves as they are also nicknamed nowadays, will have to put aside their off the pitch problems and roll up their sleeves for a battle against the seven-time champions who have suffered just a defeat this term when they lost two-nil at Katsina United.