Today, the Nigeria Professional Football League enters its home stretch with Enyimba’s top-three finish ambition up for a huge test as the People’s Elephant visit struggling Rivers United in a matchday 35 fixture at Yakubu Gowon Stadium in Port Harcourt.
The fixture is one of the stand-out clashes that highlight this weekend’s games across the country and the tension it has caused was seen when some persons attacked the Aba club during their final training in Port Harcourt yesterday.
A game of contrasting fortunes, one would say.
Enyimba are pushing for a top-three finish and sees the league as the only option to return to the continent next term having been eliminated from the Federation Cup by equally struggling Abubakar Bukola Saraki, ABS FC, in Ilorin three days ago.
Enyimba have won the domestic silverware seven times and are poised for a record 8th triumph.
Standing in 4th position on the log going into this clash with 54 points, same as third placed Akwa United, Enyimba know that only a win can keep their ambition alive.
With the full compliment of their squad, coach Gbenga Ogunbote will throw all his arsenals into this one, knowing this could be the best chance to sneak a point on the road in this last four games of the campaign.
His hosts, Rivers United, are riding their worst patch. Aside internal rumblings, ‘The Pride of Rivers’ are battling with injuries to key players which will force coach Stanley Eguma to file out a somewhat depleted and weakened side.
At the last count, centre-back and captain Festus Austine is injured and not available for selection. Similarly, Ivorian import, Doughadji and former Enyimba stopper, Semiu Liadi are down with varying degrees of injuries and will not be available.
Eguma will thus parade a make-shift back four that could see Asekunowo Ayobanmi partnering Gabriel Olalekan in the heart of defence with Ali Chinwendu and Markson Ojobo running the wing backs.
Indeed, Rivers United will be bathing with hot water with their bare fingers in this one just as Enyimba could have their most veritable chance to snatch a point or even three from this.
FC IFEANYIUBAH VS AKWA UNITED
Ambitious Akwa United travel to FC Ifeanyiubah in this matchday 35 fixture.
It is yet another tough fixture of the day with both sides having everything to play for. A win for the Promise Keepers will no doubt enhance their top-three finish dream and coach Abdul Maikaba, who has tremendously transformed the side without noise, will be aiming to become the first team to silence ‘The Anambra Warriors’ on their home turf.
But that could appear a tall dream for the visitors. Just last week, financier of FC Ifeanyiubah, Patrick ‘Ebube Chukwu Uzo’ emphatically declared that his team are poised for a continental return.
He said they have plans to win all their remaining home games and as well pick a win on the road in the remaining five games of the season.
That boast will be put to an ultimate test by Akwa United, who are desirous of dashing the Capital Oil and Gas boss’ dream in this clash.
ABS VS PLATEAU UNITED
This is yet another stand-out fixture of matchday 35.
A game of contrasting fortunes, one would say. While Plateau United are run-away NPFL leaders, ABS are struggling for survival.
A win for the home side will drag their total points’ haul so far in the campaign to 46. But Plateau United will start planning their victory party should they win at ABS.
But if the Henry Makinwa charges could reproduce the form that saw them dispatch Enyimba 2-1 in Wednesday’s Federation Cup, then Plateau United will have to tightly screw their heads onto their necks for this real, tough battle of Ilorin.
MFM VS GOMBE UNITED
This is not the best of times to visit MFM at their Agege Stadium slaughter slab. The wards of Fidelis Ilechukwu are charging like the raging bull in search of their first ever continental trip ticket.
Gombe United with 40 points appear down and out but before you write them out, expect shocker from them if you take them for granted.
They could play the spoiler for the church team and if that happened, as envisaged, then their continental ambition will be up in smokes.
SHOOTING STARS VS NASARAWA UNITED
There is this popular maxim that the race of life offers more delightfulness if one knows where he stands before the race.
This could play out in the battle at the Lekan Salami Stadium in Ibadan when Shooting Stars Sports Club (3SC) welcome Nasarawa United.
‘Up Sooting’ know they are riding the rough patch this term.
‘The Oluyole Boys’ also know a slip at this stage will land them in the second-tier league, NNL, next season.
That race of life, is indeed now, and this, no retreat, no surrender.
Fatai Amoo knows he cannot afford to be the one to lead the Pride of Ibadan to relegation. He will have to throw in every of his dice into this and hopes that ‘The Solid Miners’ striker of inestimable value, Abdulrahman Bashir, is not fielded or forgets his scoring boots in Lafia.
Amoo should also pray that ‘clean sheet master’ goalkeeper Suraj Ayeleso did not make the trip or perhaps forgot his clean sheet gloves in Lafia.
SUNSHINE STARS VS NIGER TORNADOES
Sunshine Stars coach Duke Udi said he loves challenges, hence he took up the Akure team’s job when he did.
The young manager has indeed proved every doubting Thomas wrong. Sunshine Stars are somewhat off the drop zone, but Udi, an ex Nigeria international, is not dropping his ante.
“There is still much to play for. The remaining 15 points are still important and we will fight for every single one of them”, he had said ahead of their matchday 34 trip to Rangers.
They eventually lost 1-0. Now he has the opportunity to right whatever went wrong in Enugu and should he fail against Niger Tornadoes, then…….!
RANGERS VS KATSINA UNITED
Enugu Rangers will welcome fellow relegation-threatened Katsina United knowing they need all three points to keep their hope of survival alive.
Katsina, on the other hand, are aware that nothing but victory in the remaining games can save them from the dreaded drop.
This scenario makes this fixture a tricky and intriguing one.
Rangers stop-gap coach, Sylvanus Okpala, who saw red in his debut game in charge, must file out his best in the remaining games for ‘The Flying Antelopes’ to remain afloat.
By Sab Osuji