<
>

Five takeaways for NPFL weekend action

Enugu Rangers during a league encounter in the NPFL. Courtesy LMC Media

Enyimba and Kano Pillars headlined a weekend of intrigue in the Nigeria Professional Football League, serving up a superb dose of football that had just about everything, including a red card.

Other sides were not to be outdone; league top scorer Stephen Odey took one penalty twice and missed both times, and Sunshine Stars came close to setting a league record, only to fall short.

Here are five takeaways from the last weekend of NPFL football:

ENYIMBA WIN GRUDGE BATTLE
Despite their distance from the upstart title-chasing duo of Plateau United and MFM, Enyimba against Kano Pillars has been the standout game of the Nigerian domestic season.

This weekend's installment was no different. While the turnout lived up to expectation in its disappointment, the fare served up on the pitch was everything it said on the tin.

End-to-end and chances aplenty for both sides, plus a red card to Kano Pillars' Junior Lokosa (just like in their last meeting early this year when Chinedu Udoji saw red), it took a penalty from Mfon Udoh, his 12th of the season and 58th in the league, to separate the sides.

The win also took Enyimba to 70 home matches spanning nearly three seasons without a home defeat since they last lost to Abia Warriors. They now sit fourth on the log behind Akwa United, while Pillars are in the embarrassing position of 10th.

SUNSHINE SO CLOSE, YET SO FAR

After two consecutive away victories, and with their relegation worries seemingly receding into the sunset, Sunshine Stars travelled to Wikki Tourists with a different goal in mind. Rather than fighting for survival, they hoped to become the first side to win three consecutive road games in Nigerian domestic competition.

They were not playing. Within 10 minutes of kick-off they were in front courtesy of defender Nojeem Raji - and looking ominous. But their adventure was to be their undoing as Idris Guda leveled for Wikki within four minutes, then Chinedu Onyelonu finished off the plucky record-chasers by dispatching a spot-kick.

So very close for Sunshine, yet so far.

ODEY MISSES CHANCE AT RECORD

Stephen Odey's assault on Mfon Udoh's 23-goal domestic league record suffered a setback when the striker missed a penalty - not once, but twice - against Remo Stars.

Needing to win at least one road game to keep pace with leaders Plateau United, Stars presented the best opportunity for MFM. The league's bottom side were without a win in seven previous home games and MFM pounced.

They were awarded a penalty in the second half and Odey stepped up, but he skied it. The referee ordered a retake after ruling that the Remo goalkeeper had stepped off his line, but the second bite at the cherry was even worse.

It took a late strike from Austin Ogunye to secure only MFM's second road win of the campaign, and the first of the second half of the season. The result took MFM to within three points of Plateau United, who snapped Shooting Stars' five-game unbeaten streak.

RANGERS STAY ABOVE WATER, JUST

What a bungling, topsy-turvy season it has been for Rangers after winning their first title in a generation.

Out of the CAF Champions League and Confederations Cup in rapid quick time, the former giants have been embroiled in all manner of damaging PR, including an ill-advised arrest of former coach Imama Amapakabo which resulted in suspensions for general manager Christian Chukwu and club cecretary Joseph Onwukwe.

They have gone through two coaches in rapid quick time. Former international Sylanus Okpala is the third coach in one season after Imama Amapakabo and Chukwuma Agbo.

They did manage to nick the three points in their relegation six-pointer with Rivers United, although that took two days after the game was rained out on Sunday.

Rangers, with 42 points, have now moved up to 13th, while Rivers on 41 points perch precariously in 16th place, one above the drop zone where 3SC on 40 points occupies the last relegation place. Neither are safe.

SURAJ AYELESO THE HIDDEN GEM

Vincent Enyeama's premature international retirement and Carl Ikeme's leukemia diagnosis have left Nigeria scrambling for goalkeepers at senior international level.

While FC Ifeanyi Ubah's Ikechukwu Ezenwa appears to be the favorite at the moment, Nasarawa United's Surak Ayeleso is making a strong case for his inclusion. From the outside.

Ayeleso was not called up to Nigeria's African Nations Championship squad, despite being tied for clean-sheets at the time the squad was named.

In fact, none of the other two goalkeepers, Niger Tornadoes' Mustapha Salihu and Akwa United's Olorunleke Ojo - who shared the clean-sheet record - were named.

Last weekend, Ayeleso nosed in front with another clean-sheet, taking his tally to 13. Perhaps it might be time to look in his direction.