NPFL Matchday 17 Preview: Enyimba, Enugu Rangers battle in Aba

Issif Traore tries a long range effort with his head against Rivers United
Issif Traore tries a long range effort with his head against Rivers United [PHOTO CREDIT: Enugu Rangers media]

The city of Aba is expected to be agog on Sunday as Nigeria’s top clubs, Enyimba and Enugu Rangers, go head-on in the star fixture of the Matchday 17 games of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).

Sunday’s derby clash is between the most successful clubs in the Nigerian League. Rangers and Enyimba have seven league titles apiece.

In the reverse fixture earlier in the season, Ajani Ibrahim’s only goal earned the Enugu side all three points and the bragging rights. Hence Enyimba will be gunning for a revenge as they host Sunday’s derby clash.

Rangers looked impregnable at the top of group A following a commanding start to the season and a pile up of outstanding fixtures; but consecutive losses to Bendel Insurance and Rivers United have now opened the door for the chasing pack.

Enyimba lead that chasing pack and will get into touching distance of the Flying Antelopes with a win in this weekend’s star fixture in Aba.

Looking ahead into Sunday’s game, Rangers coach, Gbenga Ogunbote, who was a former coach with Enyimba, says he is keen to get a good result against his former employers. But he was quick to ask for a level playing ground.

“What we have in mind is to come back home with a positive result. All we ask is a level playing field.

“Aside from the fact that I have handled Enyimba in the past, I wish to see Sunday’ game as any other we have played so far in the league.

“We have gone past the loss in Port-Harcourt and it is behind us now. We are focused on this encounter and our target is getting a good result in this third fixture I am having against my former employers.” Ogunbote told the Rangers Media team.

On his part, Enyimba coach, Usman Abd’Allah, whose side are on a 10-match unbeaten run, said he is only focused on picking one of the playoff spots and not keen on knocking Rangers off the top spot.

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“We are only trying to qualify (for the playoffs),” the gaffer stated in a pre-match interview.

“Nobody gets a trophy when you come first, second or third; so it’s just to qualify.

“The most important thing is that I only want to look at the fourth position of the table. The more Enyimba is far away from the team that is in the fourth position, the safer we are.

“It doesn’t matter if we finish third or first because if the person in the fourth position climbs up he has to displace somebody from the top three and we don’t want to be part of that.

“So the most important thing is to keep on moving so that we can be very, very far away from the position of fourth, and that’s the only way we can guarantee our place in the playoffs.

In other Sunday games, Lagos-based MFM FC will hope to return to winning ways when they host Rivers United at the Agege Township Stadium.

MFM are without a win in their last five games; losing three away games and settling for draws against Enyimba and Lobi Stars at home.

Coach Fidelis Ilechukwu’s men face a Rivers United team beaming with confidence following their midweek 3-0 spanking of Rangers.

Other games in Group A will see Wikki Tourists travel to Akure to play against Sunshine with Kwara United playing host to Lobi Stars in Ilorin.

Katsina United will be home against Remo Stars while Bendel Insurance already played a barren draw against Niger Tornadoes on Saturday.

Rangers, Enyimba and MFM are the top three teams in Group A at present.

Group B games

In Group B, the top three teams would be expected to make the most of their home advantage, after they lost their away games in the penultimate weekend.

Akwa United are home against Nasarawa United while FC IfeanyiUbah have a tricky tie against Delta Force.

El-Kanemi Warriors already played their game on Saturday but they were forced to a 2-2 draw by Go Round.

While the Borno Army have momentarily moved to the top spot with 29 points from 17 games, they would be knocked off once Akwa United win in Uyo against Nasarawa United.

Elsewhere, Yobe Stars’ quest to escape relegation will continue on Sunday as they play away to Heartland.

Kano Pillars’ battle for the top three will see them playing at home to Plateau United in Kano.

The final game in the group is between Gombe United and Abia Warriors.

Only the group’s top three teams will eventually proceed to the next round to play in the Super Six where the champion of the 2019 NPFL abridged season will be decided.

 

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