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NPFL: Close fight offers returnees Rivers United title lifeline

NPFL: Close fight offers returnees Rivers United title lifeline
April 24
20:52 2024

With Rivers United out of continental competition, the race for the Nigeria Premier Football League title has become six-pronged; the Port Harcourt club joining the league leaders Enugu Rangers, Enyimba, Lobi, Plateau United and Remo Stars in the rush to the wire as the league enters Matchday 32 this week.

Rivers United’s 2-0 beating of Rangers on Matchday 31 was a signal that the former league winners are out to make another title claim. For United who are now on 37 points and sit in the 15th position in the log, there are still six outstanding games to play, targeting an 18-point haul with all things being equal. In the reality of the pedigree that the Blue Sharks possess in the NPFL, the target is not far-fetched to make them claw their way back to title contention, considering they are 17 points adrift of Rangers at the summit who have played the maximum 31 games so far.

Already, Enyimba and Lobi are breathing down on Rangers who are on 54 points as leaders with both tying on 52 points while Plateau and Remo Stars also tie trailing the top three teams with 50 points apiece.

Shooting Stars, lethargic in the early stages of the season, have also chalked up 49 points from 31 games and now strenuously attempting to shoot their way into the upper rung of the ladder, thanks to their latest form.

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Katsina United on 48 points after 30 matches, Kano Pillars on 44 points
from 31 games follow in that order while Insurance of Benin and Niger Tornadoes, after 31 and 30 games respectively are tied on 42 points, with Abia Warriors closing up on 41 points after 30 games.

Kwara United, after surviving management threats to stay afloat, have played 30 games and are seated in the 12th position on 39 points, followed by the struggling duo of Sporting Lagos and Doma United who have both played 31 games but are tied on 38 points.

Seated in the 16th position might not help Sunshine Stars’ fortune going forward, especially having played 30 games and are on 36 points. But the Akure club still sits atop Bayelsa United who have played 31 games and are on the same 36 points.

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For Akwa United, however, it could take a race to the final day of the league to know if they would stay on or go down, no thanks to having played 31 games but are stuck on 34 points. Heartland of Owerri would require loads of miracles to stay afloat at the end of the season, having managed only 29 points from 31 games and are seated in the 19th position, looking down on Gombe United whose fate has been sealed but only awaiting official confirmation of their relegation to the lower cadre next season, after hauling measly 17 points from 31 games. Indeed, the 4-0 pummeling that Gombe suffered in Kano on Matchday 31 summed up the misery that has dogged them all season, and an ugly reminder that they also fell 5-0 to Pillars in the reverse fixture right in front of their home fans at the Patami Stadium in Gombe.

After a hard-fought 1-1 result at Lafia Stadium against Lobi Stars on Matchday 31 which placed Enyimba in the second position behind Rangers, the Coach of the Aba club, Finidi George, declared that his side are now determined to defend the title they won last season. “We know what is at stake and certainly can’t afford any slip with only seven games remaining,” George said.

Rangers’ Coach, Fidelis Ilechukwu, regrets the costly slip against Rivers United but admits there will be no margin for errors anymore. “It’s obviously tougher being at the top of the table at this time. But we won’t surrender our mental strength either and we will fight till the end,” Ilechukwu said.

The coaching crews of Lobi, Plateau, and Remo are echoing the “fight to finish” resolve. But they all know they must stay wary of surging Rivers United who are convinced of their ability to climb the ladder all the way to the zenith, beginning from last weekend in Port Harcourt.

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