NPFL Season Review: Gainers, losers, and the LMC can’t rest just yet…

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The final round of matches of the Nigeria professional football league (NPFL) lived up to its billings.

The story-lines enveloped matters, hopes, expectations that had to be settled, as it is in many leagues across the world – saving the best for the last, where every miss or error is capable of tearing apart a season long dream or hope and same can be said of a single moment of brilliance making miracle happens. Taking it to the wire reflects the state of affair of competitiveness – every team harbors the belief of being winner and they lay it bare on the pitch of play; nothing is won until it’s won and nothing is lost until it’s lost.

So congratulations to Plateau United! The “Hospital Club” who gained promotion to the league in 2015 didn’t need the help of El-Kaneni Warriors to beat their closest challengers MFM to the title.

In what was operation do-it-yourself, they reached an unassailable 66 points courtesy of the 2-0 win over Enugu Ranger (the dethroned Champions) at Rwang Pam stadium and thereby became the legitimate winners of 2016/17 season, their first, and has to be said, the first in 45 years for any Plateau based side. Shoved and shook by blistering heat of pressure from MFM, but resilient and wrapped things up. El-Kanemi ultimately beat MFM anyway, leading to a 4-point gap.

Another winners of the day were Enyimba, who were battling for a continental spot with Akwa United, they finished third to secure the lone CAF Confederation Cup spot with a 1 – 0 win over Katsina United in Calabar. Akwa finished fourth despite beating Kano Pillars 3 – 0 in Uyo.

Whilst Enyimba will be joined by Aiteo cup winner in the CAF Confederation Cup, Plateau United and MFM will be Nigeria flag bearers in next season’s CAF champions league.

The ouster of last representatives (Enugu Rangers, Rivers United in champions league; FC Ifeanyi Ubah and Wikki Tourists) early in the competitions should be avoided.

Prior to the Matchday 38, teams positioned from the 13th to 18th were candidates to ply their trade in the Nigerian National League, next season. While ABS confirmed their seemingly inevitable relegation following the 2-0 loss to Nassarawa United, Shooting Stars await the conclusion of the abandoned game between Gombe United and Wikki Tourists before their fate is sealed.

Anthony Okpotu scored as Lobi Stars held Ifeanyi Ubah to a 1-1 draw in Nnewi; taking his season total to 19 goals beating the 18 Stephen Odey scored for MFM before he signed a 4-year deal with FC Zurich of Switzerland, former club of Rashidi Yekini and Ike Shorunmo.

Anthony Okpotu was only a goal shy of tying Jude Aneke’s 20 league goals in a single season but four shy of Mfon Udoh’s record 23 league goals in a single season.

Also, the Golden Gloves was won by Nasarawa ’ s Suraj Ayeleso, who managed 15 clean sheets. His closest rivals Mustapha Aliko of Tornadoes and Akwa United’ s Olorunleke Ojo ended the season with 13 clean sheets each.

So much of what was decided in matchday 38, it’s of course an intriguing and fascinating season; credit to the LMC for setting standards for it. However, hooliganism remains scourges.

Home fans still invaded pitch to harass officials. I’m not unmindful of the fact that it happens in other climes but ours happens at alarming rate and in gross proportions, the must-win spirit should be streamed to cheering and galvanizing players and not taking to violence. Of course appropriate punishments are meted out on perpetrators; more I suppose should be the case next season.

It’s equally frustrating, though, to watch a team play great football, put in its best to win a game and see the goal shattered due to incompetent officiating.  Ex-Super Eagle chief coach Austin Eguavoen resigned his appointment as coach of Sunchine Stars after only five matches due to, according to him, bad attitude and performances of some referees in the local league. Raising the standard of officiating therefore becomes an utmost relevance in betterment of the league.

Meanwhile, I will love to see some level of consistency from clubs. In English league, there are the traditional big teams; same in Spanish La Liga Santander or Italian Serie A. Top clubs do slip and finish below expected position but it happens more and much in Nigeria.

Since Kano Pillars won 3 titles on the trot from 2012-2015, title defense has not been impressive. The top 3 in 2015/16 season – Enugu Rangers, Rivers United, Wikki Tourists, finished the just concluded season on 13th, 15th, 14th positions respectively. One cannot predict where Champions Plateau United, MFM, and Enyimba will finish next season – the unpredictability of football is not obscure, point is Nigerian clubs administrators need to imbibe the habit of picking up from where things are left off. There is no permanent stable winning affairs in football, leading or winning clubs should aim bigger than previous seasons.

 

Article written by Innocent Okpako. A burgeoning football writer and broadcast journalist,

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