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Battles for NPFL Super 6 tickets, survival go down the wire

On Sunday, May 21, the curtains will fall on the 2022/23 abridged Nigeria Premier League Football (NPFL) season after 18 weeks of intense football rivalry…

On Sunday, May 21, the curtains will fall on the 2022/23 abridged Nigeria Premier League Football (NPFL) season after 18 weeks of intense football rivalry which kicked off on January 8.

Expectedly, the build up to the last round of matches is filled with suspense, anxiety and apprehension especially among supporters of the clubs that are in contention for the Super 6 playoff and those on the verge of relegation.

It will be recalled that at the start of the season, the Interim Management Committee (IMC) made it clear that the Super 6 playoff would see the top three teams from Groups A and B, contesting for the title and the remaining two continental slots in a playoff tournament.

As it is the tradition, the league winners and the runners-up will represent Nigeria in the lucrative Champions League while the third place team would settle for one of the Confederation Cup tickets.

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The stakes are therefore high for clubs seriously chasing continental football and those who are fighting hard to retain their places in the NPFL.

Already Bendel Insurance and Enyimba in Group A as well as Lobi Stars and Rivers United in Group B are guaranteed playoff tickets but other contenders like Akwa United, Remo Stars, Doma United, Sunshine Stars and Abia Warriors still have so much to do to actualise their dreams.

Former Champions, Plateau United were highly favoured to nick one of the playoff tickets in Group A but the unexpected mishap at home against Remo Stars last Sunday effectively ruled them out of the race as they are left in a distant fifth place with only 25 points.

Unbeaten Bendel Insurance with 33 points are guaranteed Super 6 ticket in Group A even if they are defeated by already relegated Nasarawa United in their last match but second placed Enyimba who have 31 points must beat 3SC at home to not only reach the playoff but end as group winners in case of a road mishap for Insurance. Enyimba’s opponents are already guaranteed a place in the NPFL even if they surrender the three points.

Remo Stars with 30 points must not take their eyes off the maximum points when they trade tackles with Kwara United who have secured their NPFL spot after a hard earned 1-0 win over Nasarawa United in week 17. If the ‘Sky Blues’ lose at home, their chances of picking a Super Six slot will rest largely on Akwa United also losing their game.

The ‘Promise Keepers’ will be the guests of Gombe United who are safe in seventh position with 19 points. This is a must win for Akwa United who also stand a chance of reaching the Super 6 but are trailing Remo Stars with a point.

The situation in Group B where Lobi Stars and Rivers United are sure of the first two playoff tickets is more difficult and trickier as the battle for the remaining group ticket is truly difficult to predict.

A look at the table shows that Rivers United who forced Wikki Tourists to a 1-1 draw in Bauchi on Thursday have two outstanding home matches against Doma and Sunshine Stars and are highly favoured to amass all six points to dislodge Lobi Stars from the top of the table to second position.

Therefore, the fight for the final group ticket is a straight one among Doma United, Sunshine Stars and Abia Warriors. Any club between Doma and Sunshine Stars that manages to beat Rivers United in their rescheduled match will be guaranteed the last ticket.

However, if Sunshine and Doma United are beaten by Rivers United, the fight for the last group ticket would be effectively decided on the final day when Sunshine battle Dakkada at home while Doma United travel to Umuahia to square up with Abia Warriors.

Even if Abia Warriors defeat Doma United and Sunshine Stars also edge already relegated Dakkada at home, the last playoff ticket in group B will go to the ‘Akure Gunners’ who have a superior goal advantage. Both would end on 27 points but Sunshine Stars have plus four goals while Abia Warriors have minus four.

Another battle field in Group B will be between leaders Lobi Stars and Wikki Tourists in Jos. The Tourists from Bauchi must win the match to leapfrog Bayelsa United to safety.

It must be said that the 1-1 draw with Rivers United in their rescheduled week 15 match on Thursday has no doubt exposed the ‘Bauchi elephants’ to serious trouble and they are now at the mercy of Lobi Stars who are guaranteed a Super 6 ticket.

As it is, anything short of the maximum points would send Wikki Tourists into relegation where Nasarawa United, El-Kanemi Warriors and Dakkada are waiting to welcome the next arrival.

Although they have lost out on the Super 6 tickets in Group B, both Niger Tornadoes and Rangers of Enugu have no relegation worries as there is no way for both Bayelsa United and Wikki Tourists to dislodge from their sixth and seventh positions on the table.

Meanwhile, in view of the importance attached to the final round of matches, the IMC has said it is closing monitoring the 20 clubs in order to nip in the bud any match fixing.

Davidson Owumi, the Head of Operations of IMC had expressed satisfaction with the progress made during the abridged season but reiterated that there will be close monitoring of the last round of matches especially fixtures involving clubs that are battling against relegation.

The IMC said its Security Intelligence Unit was already monitoring activities of some of the officials whose clubs are involved in fixtures the league organisers described as ‘high risk matches.’

“We are happy so far with the performance of the clubs, the conduct of the majority of our match officials and the fans in most venues.

“It’s never perfect and we are working to plug all gaps, especially at this last stage when desperation has set in.

“While it may not be in our interest to disclose all the strategies we have in place, it is also important to make it known that Security Intelligence Unit are already monitoring some Clubs Officials in high risk games with a view to nipping in the bud any untoward developments”, the IMC announced.

According to the latest rescheduling of matches by the IMC, the Super 6 competition earlier scheduled to start on May 16 has been moved to Tuesday, May 23 to June 3 at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena Onikan in Lagos.

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