As the 2021 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) gradually winds down, leading title contenders are doing everything humanly possible to avoid unnecessary slips that would give advantage to their rivals.
At the moment, Akwa United who are in the hunt for their maiden title are leading the chasing pack with 57 points from 31 matches played so far. The ‘Promise keepers’ are followed closely by the trio of Nasarawa United, Kano Pillars and Enyimba FC.
While both Nasarawa United and Kano Pillars are on 55 points, former champions, Enyimba who only recently edged out Kwara United 1-0 in their rescheduled week 22 match have amassed 54 points.
Consequently, so much attention is on the top of the table clash between Akwa United and Enyimba. It will be recalled that after a slow start to the season, Akwa United put their worries behind to go 18 matches unbeaten before they were halted in Katsina by United who defeated them 1-0 in week 29.
However, the Kennedy Boboye made amends almost immediately when returned home to beat Nasarawa United 2-1 before the crucial 0-0 draw against defending champions, Plateau United in Jos in week 31.
It is the hard earned point at Plateau United that has aided Akwa United to restore the two-point gap between them and their closest rivals, Nasarawa United and Kano Pillars.
Although they are going into this weekend’s week 32 match as leaders, Akwa United need no seer for them to know that any slip against Enyimba, will have dire consequences.
Prior to tomorrow’s titanic clash, Akwa United and Enyimba had played 21 matches. While Enyimba won nine, Akwa United triumphed six times just as six of the contests ended in draws.
And available statistics show that matches involving the two teams are usually difficult to decide because they parade some of the best players in the domestic league.
The Media Officer of Enyimba, Zazi Bariza told Trust Sports that as things stand, the 2021 season can be won by any of the top four clubs as he maintained that with 21 points up for grab, anything can still happen.
He further said, the game against Akwa United is going to be a tough one as it will be the first of the ‘seven finals’, referring to the number of league matches left to end the season.
“We have 21 points to fight for. So as things stand now, any team among the top four can win the league. We are expecting a tough contest at Akwa United.
“For us, it is the first of the ‘seven finals’. Some clubs are fighting to avoid relegation, some are fighting for continental tickets while others are fighting to earn a respectable position on the table. Akwa United have been very consistent in the league, so it will be a very tough game,” he reiterated.
Without doubt, Enyimba have the capacity to shock Akwa United in Uyo but even if they win to go level on points with their hosts, they will stay second because Akwa United have a nearly insurmountable goal difference of plus 20 against Enyimba’s plus 5.
In addition, Enyimba can only shoot to the second spot if Nasarawa United and Kano Pillars suffer mishaps in their away fixtures. While Nasarawa United are guests of FC IfeanyiUbah, Sunshine Stars are hosting Pillars in Akure.
Although they may fancy their chances of winning, Nasarawa United and Pillars must be wary of FC IfeanyiUbah and Sunshine Stars because faced with relegation, the two clubs are desperate to mop up points in the remaining matches.
When they met in the first round, Nasarawa United and Kano Pillars triumphed over their opponents but this Sunday might be different given the above scenario.
However, if any of them wins and Akwa United lose against Enyimba, the victorious side will move to the top of the table with 58. Therefore, Akwa United will need at least a draw to stay on top of the table. So for the top four teams, there is everything to play for.
The technical adviser of Kano Pillars, Ibrahim Musa in a chat with Trust Sports said “We are targeting the maximum points against Sunshine Stars. I know how difficult the match is going to be but we have our game plan.
“At this stage of the league, it is usually difficult to beat relegation-threatened clubs in their homes but with a level playing field, we shall go back with the maximum points.
“My boys are ready. We have prepared adequately for the match in Akure.”
In the same vein, Nasarawa United striker, Adamu Hassan is confident of victory over FC IfeanyiUbah in Nnewi.
He told Trust Sports that the ‘solid miners’ will keep to their game plan against the ‘Nnewi millionaires. “It will be tight but we are equal to the task.
“Our intention is to do the double over FC IfeanyiUbah but it is not going to be a stroll in the park. Surely, they will resist us but we shall find a way through,” said the former Kano Pillars striker.
As the race for the title hots up, the other half of the table is not left out as relegation-threatened clubs are also battling to stay alive.
17th placed Jigawa Golden Stars who lost 3-1 at Nasarawa United in week 31 will host Plateau United in Gombe, resurgent Katsina United will travel down to Lagos to trade tackles with MFM who picked a point at Adamawa United on Sunday just as Dakkada who lost 1-2 at Wikki Tourists will welcome Heartland in Uyo.
Elsewhere, title chasing Kwara United travel to face Abia Warriors who suffered a 0-2 loss at Warri Wolves, Rangers who were 2-0 losers at Kwara United entertain Wikki Tourists in Enugu while second from bottom Warri Wolves visit another title aspirant, Rivers United in Port-Harcourt.