The abridged version of the 2022/23 Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) concludes on Sunday, with three spots remaining for the season-ending Super-Six event.
The Super Six event will determine the overall winners and the clubs representing Nigeria on the continent.
Going into matchday 18, the trio of Bendel Insurance, Rivers United, and Lobi Stars have already booked their places in the Super-Six. At the same time, in Group A, Enyimba (31 points), Remo Stars (30 points), and Akwa United (29 points) can snag the last two slots.
In Group B, there is only one outstanding and Doma United (26 points) will slug it out with Abia Warriors (24 points) and Sunshine Stars (24 points) on Sunday.
The abridged season has been an eye-opener and has seen some unlikely stories emerge. Chief amongst these is the current unbeaten streak of Bendel Insurance, who have played 17 games without a defeat. The Benin Gunners have won eight games and drawn nine during their record-breaking season after getting promoted from the Nigeria National League.
The league has produced 358 goals this season, with an average of 20 goals every matchday. The highest goal tally of 27 was recorded on matchday 11.
Meanwhile, the newly promoted club, Doma United, being a dark horse, have shown they can be the new MFM FC in the league as they have an eye on one of the top three spots in Group B.
Several centres will be hotspots for the weekend as they determine the shape and final standings of the first phase.
Five top games for the weekend
There are five locations where the greatest attention will be focused over the weekend, with numerous permutations for the final day of the regular season.
Calculative game in Ibadan
Enyimba need a point like Shooting Stars to qualify for their respective positions. While Enyimba seek a top-three finish, Shooting Stars are clinging to the sixth position to enable them to play in the Super 12.
Recall that the Oluyole Warriors won the GTI pre-season competition defeating Enyimba at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena last year; thus, gifting the People’s Elephant a point to play in the Super 6 might look like a favour in return.
The Oluyole Warriors, defending champions of the pre-season tournament, are earnestly seeking to defend that title now that the prize money has been raised to N1.2 billion.
We expect the Sunday fixtures to be streamed live, which means all eyes will be on Coach Gbenga Ogunbote as he plays against his former club.
Meanwhile, if both teams settle for a draw, it would be the fourth time in the last 15 meetings.
Sunshine to give Dakkada a send-forth to the NNL in Akure on Sunday
This will be a payback time for Sunshine stars, who were humiliated by Dakkada last season 3-0 in Uyo. Sunshine Stars should have an easy cruise against the already relegated side at the Akure Township Stadium on Sunday.
The game may also be a stepping stone for the Owena Gunners to play in the Super Six if Doma don’t get a win or draw in Umuahia.
Sunshine Stars are currently in the fourth position with 24 points, two points below Doma United, who have a ‘survival of the fittest’ game against Abia Warriors.
Since Dakkada are hopeless with nothing to play for, Sunshine Stars will be focused on scoring as many goals as possible to boost their goals difference column.
Will Rivers lose against Rangers in Awka?
Rivers United want to finish as the Group B champions, while Rangers want to qualify for the Super 12. These shaky Flying Antelopes are seemingly at the mercy of Rivers United, as what will make them qualify is a victory and plenty of goals in Awka.
Meanwhile, Bayelsa United, who are in the eighth position, need to defeat the sixth-placed Niger Tornadoes by two goals or more to escape relegation which might be a blessing in disguise for Enugu Rangers.
While Bayelsa United are helping themselves and Rangers, the Abdul Maikaba boys need to avoid complacency, as they have shown so far this season. The Flying Antelope have won just once in their last five games. Their head-to-head shows Rangers have won thrice, lost once and drawn once in their previous five home games against Rivers.
Ayeni and Akwa United to the Lion’s den in Gombe
Ordinarily, teams that have picked a point or more in Gombe have had problems with the fans, but Akwa United are hoping to see Shooting Stars defeat Enyimba while they shock Gombe United at home.
Gombe United are currently in the seventh position with 19 points, three points below sixth-placed Shooting Stars and hopeless to grab a top 12 ticket because of a minus-nine goal difference.
Can Doma break Warriors in Umuahia?
Doma United have been one of the league’s surprises this season, just like Bendel Insurance, but what has been a sweet beginning might end up sour if they do not pick at least a point against Abia Warriors in Umuahia.
The Gombe-based club have won two of their last five games, while Abia Warriors need to defeat Doma by at least seven goals to get close to Sunshine Stars.
It promises to be a nerve-wracking end to the first phase of the league.
Nasarawa United vs Bendel Insurance
Shooting Stars vs Enyimba
Gombe United vs Akwa United
El Kanemi Warriors vs Plateau United
Remo Stars vs Kwara United
Bayelsa United vs Niger Tornadoes
Sunshine Stars vs Dakkada
Lobi Stars vs Wikki Tourist
Abia Warriors vs Doma United
Enugu Rangers vs Rivers United
*All the matches kick off at 4 pm on 21 May 2023.
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