Barring unforeseen circumstances, the 2022 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) season will come to an intriguing end on Sunday, July 17 with week 38 matches scheduled to be played across the country.
While Rivers United are set to be crowned champions at the end of their match against Gombe United at the Yakubu Gowon stadium in Port-Harcourt, the duo of Remo Stars and Kwara United will be up against Niger Tornadoes and Heartland as they make the final push for the available CAF Confederation Cup ticket.
Interestingly, only one point separates third placed Remo Stars and Kwara United in the race for the continent. While Remo have 59 points from 37 matches, Kwara United have 58 points from the same number of matches.
As a matter of fact, after the trio of Rangers, Enyimba and Akwa United fell out of the race for the CAF Confederation Cup ticket, it became a straight fight between Remo Stars and Kwara United.
Based on their current positions on the log, Remo Stars are aware that anything less than victory would in Ikenne spell doom for them unless Niger Tornadoes fell at Heartland.
On paper, the odds favour Remo Stars who are playing at home against Niger Tornadoes who have escaped relegation and can afford to lose the match.The same can’t be said of Kwara United who are away at angry Heartland who are relegation bound but may choose to play the role of a spoiler.
So, with Plateau United who have already secured the second Champions League ticket even if they lose at home to Enyimba on Sunday, there is some measure of certainty concerning the top three teams that will emerge from the NPFL to represent Nigeria in the continent next season.
However, for the clubs that have been engaged in relegation battles for several weeks now, there is still so much to play for on the final day, as some of them must win, even away from home, to be sure of retaining their places in the Nigerian topflight.
Therefore, come Sunday, all eyes will be on Wikki Tourists, Lobi Stars, 3SC, Katsina United, Abia Warriors, Dakkada, Kano Pillars and Heartland, to see who would join MFM in the lower division.
It would be recalled that after six seasons in the Nigerian topflight, MFM became the first relegated club in the current season after they were stunned 2-1 at home in their week 36 match by the then relegation-threatened Niger Tornadoes.
Although they are all faced with relegation, Lobi Stars, Katsina United and 3SC who are playing away from home appear to be in more precarious situations as their chances of getting favourable results on the road are quite slim.
Lobi Stars who have had a torrid season are going to end their campaign at Abia Warriors who will be targeting a double over them. There will be no love for the ‘Pride of Benue’ as Abia Warriors in 16th position with 47 points must win to be sure of safety.
The Warriors got a crucial lifeline in their last away match at Akwa United where they fought back to draw 2-2 for the all important point that will be decisive in the fight against relegation.
Meanwhile, Lobi Stars also helped themselves with a hard fought 3-2 win at home against Wikki Tourists. The former NPFL winners would have kissed the NPFL bye, if they didn’t fight back to nick the maximum points.
However, to be sure of survival, Lobi Stars must avoid defeat in Aba even as results in other centres might leave them off the hook even if they lose against Abia Warriors. But the ‘Pride of Benue’ are not ready to bank on others to escape the drop.
Lobi Stars dependable defender, Moses Tsehuan, is confident they will get a decent result in Aba to retain their place in the NPFL. “It is true we have an uphill task against Abia Warriors but we are undaunted.
“We are going for the three points. It is not going to be easy but we are giving everything for a result that will guarantee our stay in the league,” said the former Yobe Stars and Nasarawa United striker.
His younger teammate, Godfrey Utim, who scored the all important goal that gave Lobi Stars the crucial win over Gombe United is also optimistic.
“Many people have written us off but we believe in ourselves. We are going for an outright victory against Abia Warriors.
“They got a win in our home in the first round so we want to pay them back in their own coin,” said the former Akwa United striker.
Another interesting contest is the fixture between Wikki Tourists and Katsina United at the Tafawa Balewa stadium Bauchi. Although Wikki who are in 12th position with 49 points need just a draw to keep their NPFL slot, it is a must win match for the ‘Chanji boys’.
With 48 points, Katsina United can be sure of survival, only if they get a win, which in turn would endanger Wikki Tourists’ safety. Therefore, it will be difficult for the two northern clubs to play an accord match.
Therefore, speaking in an exclusive interview with Trust Sports, Katsina United’s Technical Adviser, Coach Usman Abdallah, said the match against Wikki Tourists is a must-win.
According to him, anything less than victory won’t favour his side’s fight against relegation. “Some people might be tempted to say we need only a draw but that is not correct.
“If we are to survive, we must go for victory against Wikki Tourists in Bauchi. Anything less than that will be dangerous.
“Beginning from Wikki Tourists, nobody is safe, anyone can go down,” said the former Kano Pillars, Enyimba and Wikki Tourists coach.
Although Pillars are on the verge of relegation, the former NPFL champions who are presently challenging the decision by the NFF Disciplinary committee to deduct their three points are not giving up on the fight to keep their NPFL position. The once-dreaded ‘Sai Masu gida’ boys will face equally troubled 3SC in a must-win match in Kano.
Following their appeal, the LMC is yet to deduct the three points as ordered by the O&D, so Pillars are placed 18th on the table with 45 points and victory over 3SC will give them a glimmer of hope in their fight against relegation.
However, considering that they have conceded more goals than 3SC, they must beat their visitors with at least three goals without conceding any to stand a chance. Interestingly, victory for Pillars will also be a blessing in disguise for Lobi Stars whose chances are slim at Abia Warriors.
In Uyo, Dakkada who got a big boost in the relegation battle with a shocking 2-0 win at highly rated Enyimba in week 37 are favoured to beat Sunshine Stars to finally escape relegation.
But to survive, they must score at least three goals to improve on their goal difference which is presently minus 10. Again, any slip by Dakkada in Uyo will favour either Lobi Stars or Katsina United.
Meanwhile, even as teams like Lobi Stars, Katsina United, 3SC and Dakkada will be going into the final round of matches on Sunday with their hearts in their mouths, Rangers, Enyimba, Gombe United, Akwa United, Tornadoes and Nasarawa United are home and dry but there will be no continental football for them in the coming season.