The run-in of the NPFL season begins this Wednesday with all of the clubs from 11th position down looking over their shoulders as the survival race takes a steep bend.
The race for survival is so tight that only two points separate Abia Warriors in 11th position and fourth-from-bottom placed team Rangers International, who are title holders.
Three matches – Wikki Tourists versus ABS FC, Remo Stars versus Shooting Stars and Rivers United versus Sunshine Stars – pit relegation-threatened teams against each other as the season reaches its deep end.
Ilorin-based club ABS FC have certainly played themselves into trouble after a poor string of results that has seen them pick just win in their last seven league matches and on the road they lost all of their last 10 away matches.
A trip to Bauchi to face Wikki Tourists who have looked rejuvenated in front of their supporters in recent matchdays under Bala Nikyu does not come at a good time for the Saraki Boys.
ABS FC have only avoided defeat once in their three visits to the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Stadium in Bauchi when they held Wikki to a 2-2 draw in August 2013.
ABS coach Henry Makinwa already has the burden of a three-game ultimatum to shape up or be shipped out, and add to that headache he will be without one of his key men Eugene Ossy for this very important fixture.
In the historic southwest town of Sagamu, there will be a derby between Remo Stars and Shooting Stars. The match-up is not just a derby alone as it is a relegation six-pointer.
Five-time champions Shooting Stars have had to wait for the final day of the season before confirming their status as a top division side in the past two seasons and this time, the story is not looking any different.
Remo Stars, in their first season in the NPFL, have struggled. The Sky Blue Stars have picked a miserly 28 points in 29 matches which less than a point per game and pundits are already tipping them as the first team to go down though there are still nine games to play starting with this Matchday 30 fixture.
When both teams met in the first fixture on 25 February, Victor Mbaoma’s goal helped Remo Stars to a 1-1 draw at the Lekan Salami Stadium in Ibadan after Sunday Faleye had given Shooting Stars the lead.
The game at the Gateway Stadium, Sagamu will be only their second meeting in the NPFL.
Since their change of name from Dolphins FC to Rivers United, the Port Harcourt club are yet to win a league game or score a goal against Sunshine Stars in their last three meetings.
The Pride of Rivers start the matchday in 13th place and a point above the drop zone with two outstanding games, but their coach Stanley Eguma is very concerned about facing “a very strong” Sunshine Stars team.
“Sunshine Stars is a very strong team and they will fire (on all cylinders) having lost at home (on Sunday to Nasarawa United),” Eguma told Rivers United media on the eve of their Matchday 30 game.
Former Super Eagles player Duke Udi since taking charge as Sunshine Stars head coach has won two games and lost two.
The biggest win for the Akure club this term was their 4-2 success at ABS FC but last weekend Nasarawa United became the fourth team to win against them at home this season.
Attacking midfielder Dayo Ojo has already declared that the Akure Gunners will not drop to the second tier, the Nigeria National League (NNL), at the end of the season.
“We cannot afford to allow the club to be relegated at the end of the season. It was sad we lost at home on Sunday, but we will have to do well at Rivers United who are a very, very good team with very good players too,” Ojo told npfl.ng.
Big match at the Rwang Pam Stadium
League leaders Plateau United return to their Rwang Pam Stadium in Jos to play hosts to FA Cup holders FC Ifeanyiubah.
Both clubs are in the race for the title this season with six points separating them ahead of this match-up.
FC Ifeanyiubah, like Rivers United and Shooting Stars, have the current longest run of unbeaten games of three matches.
That streak will come under scrutiny against the table-toppers who have won 52 per cent of their matches this season – a feat only equalled by MFM FC and El-Kanemi Warriors.
Plateau United’s rear have also been watertight at home in their last six games in Jos, conceding just once.
That leaves FC Ifeanyiubah head coach Yaw Preko and his forwards led by Godwin Obaje with work to do if they must breach that backline anchored around Elisha Golbe.
There will also be six matches billed for same matchday on Wednesday in Calabar, Enugu, Gombe, Katsina, Lafia and Umuahia.
Other things to expect on Matchday 30
•Lobi Stars striker Anthony Okpotu could take his total number of goals to 65 if he scores at the UJ Esuene Stadium, Calabar against Enyimba.
•MFM striker Stephen Odey is now within touching distance of equalling Mfon Udoh’s record of 23 goals scored in a single season by an individual. The MFM man has the chance to inch ever closer when his team play against the league champions Rangers at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in Enugu.
•Nasarawa United goalkeeper Suraj Ayeleso and his Niger Tornadoes counterpart Mustapha Aliko Salihu could take their number of clean sheets to 13 if they do not concede against El-Kanemi Warriors and Gombe United respectively.
•Rivers United are seeking for a first league win and a first league goal against Sunshine Stars since their change of name from Dolphins FC in February 2016.
•A first win could be recorded in the southwest derby between Remo Stars and Shooting Stars since their first-ever NPFL meeting ended in a 1-1 draw in Ibadan in February this year.
George Akpayen for lmcnpfl