From the team making an early title statement to the small club making a big start, we look at seven things we learned from the weekend’s Nigeria Professional Football League action.
While Enyimba vs Kano Pillars was surely the most anticipated match of the weekend, the real excitement came from Lobi Stars vs Dakkada FC.
Rivers United got their fourth win of the season in some style against Heartland, while Nasarawa United continued their tremendous start to the season to beat Katsina United 1-0.
With plenty of things to take away from this weekend, here are seven things we learned.
- Usual suspects at the top half
Rivers United are on top of the table with 12 points from five matches. They comfortably beat Heartland 3-1.
Title favorites Enyimba are there points back but also enjoyed a win at the weekend 2-1 over Kano Pillars. The good starts from Rangers, Nasarawa United and Lobi Stars see them round out the top five. It’s early days.
- Wikki Tourists can pick points at their rivals
Coach Usman Abd’Allah would have identified last season’s away form at rivals as a key weakness. In their second away test this season, they passed with flying colors.
Wikki Tourists drew 1-1 at Akwa United with an assured performance that was more comfortable than the scoreline suggested. There is a long way to go, but if Wikki Tourists can pick up points from their main rivals and continue beating the league’s other clubs, they will be serious title challengers.
- Thomas Zenke is Lobi Stars’ main man
The exciting winger again produced the goods for his team as he was involved in Lobi Stars’ win over Dakkada FC. But after the match Zenke complained the rough treatment he has been receiving from opposition defences is getting out of hand.
As a skillful player who likes to dribble, Zenke has been the victim of some overly aggressive challenges already this season. It’s no surprise teams want to stop him, but coach Kabiru Dogo will be hoping referees pay more attention to protecting his prized asset. One player does not make a team, but there’s no doubt Lobi are a far more fearsome prospect with Zenke.
- Rivers United’s brilliant start
With four wins and a loss from their opening five fixtures, Rivers United are in first place. They were brilliant in a 3-1 win against Heartland last weekend with winger Godwin Aguda boosting his growing reputation with one goal.
Rivers United made a few solid signings and manager Stanley Eguma continues to do a hugely impressive job. He has a knack for getting the absolute maximum from his team, while playing attractive, attacking soccer.
- Clear heads needed at Abia Warriors
Abia Warriors prop up the rest with a single point from their opening five fixtures. They drew 1-1 at FC Ifeanyi Ubah. They play MFM FC and Lobi Stars in their next twi matches, and would like at least a couple of wins to get some confidence back.
The Umuahia Warriors are on a bad run. Coach Imama Amapakabo’s task now is to get his side back to the high-energy performances of they are known for.
- Enyimba Remain the Team to Beat
Enyimba were handed a chance to bolster their title credentials and send out a statement of intent on Sunday with a win, and they took the chance like champions.
The People’s Elephants did have a good game and efficiently closed down Kano Pillars’ dangerous midfield, both of Enyimba’s goals were impressive.
Finishing – it’s a problem Enyimba generally have as a team, but the win over Pillars showed just how good they can be when everyone is finishing the chances created.
Anayo Iwuala and Orok Gabriel reminded us all of just how good they are. In order for Fatai Osho’s side to have any chance of challenging for the title this season, their top players will have to be at the top of his game and, most importantly, scoring goals for the Blues.
- This Could Be Nasarawa United’s Season
When football pundits are asked whether or not they think Nasarawa United can achieve a top three finish this season following their brilliant start (yeah, that’s not a typo), most will immediately say that as good as their form has been, Bala Nikyu’s side won’t be able to get into the promised land that is Continental qualification.
But why not? Nasarawa United’s squad consists of more than a few good players, including King Osanga, Adamu Hassan, Silas Nwankwo, Tebo Franklin and more.
In my opinion, there are only two things stopping Nasarawa United from getting a top four finish, and those are squad depth and competition. The League season is 38 games long, not five, and the same core of brilliant players will struggle to perform throughout the entire season the way they have been doing at the moment.
The second thing stopping Nasarawa United from finishing in the top three is simple. The competition for continental spots is higher than ever.
If there’s any season where Nasarawa United will take it to the next level and rise from their usual mid table finish, it’s this one.