It has been an interesting season in the Nigeria Professional Football Premier League.
Akwa United travelled all the way to Kaduna and deservedly picked a point against Kano Pillars last weekend – and the title race is now well and truly wide open.
The race for the gong looks as open as it has ever been – with as many as seven teams eyeing up Nigeria’s top prize.
As many as eight teams are in the hunt in what is the most open race in years.
Futbalgalore.com.ng looks at the state of play at the top of the Nigerian table and identifies the strengths and weaknesses of the title hopefuls…
1st – Akwa United – 50 points (Played 27)
Draw at Pillars has enlivened Akwa United’s mood – the Promise Keepers have been imperious in the last 17 games without a loss.
Kennedy Boboye’s side remain top of NPFL log thanks to the prolific form of Charles Atshimene who has 10 goals.
Ubong Friday, Nasiru Jibril, Mfon Udoh and Orok Akarandut have led the line well.
Dare Ojo has provided an excellent base in midfield, while the likes of Samson Gbadebo, Etim Matthew, Olisa Ndah, David Philip and Charles Okafor have tidied up things at the back.
What will favour Akwa United in their title charge is their next run of fixtures, as Boboye’s men mainly face sides near the bottom of the table (Adamawa United and Katsina United) before facing three tough tests against Nasarawa United, Plateau United and Enyimba.
2nd – Kano Pillars – 49 points (Played 27)
Ibrahim Musa’s side looked to be hitting all the right notes but they failed to defeat a stubborn Akwa United side at the Ahmadu Bello Stadium the last time out.
Pillars are heavily reliant on Rabiu Ali, who has 10 goals this season.
After a slow start to the campaign, Musa appears to have a fixed starting line-up with reliable options coming off the bench.
A lot is asked of regular full-backs Fahad Usman and Christ Madaki but Victor Denis has impressed when called upon.
Musa has the firepower but history shows the season can easily blow up straight in his face.
He therefore has the attacking power like Ahmed Musa, Ali Mallam and Nyima Nwagua.
Pillars have easy games against Jigawa Golden Stars and FC Ifeanyi Ubah coming up.
3rd – Nasarawa United – 48 points (Played 27)
Under Bala Nikyu, Nasarawa United look to be heading towards the right direction on the pitch.
The days of concern in the past are over and 15 wins in 27 games has now hauled the
Solid Miners straight into this title fight.
A reliance on Chinedu Ohanachom for goals is also no more. In fact, it’s an unknown quantity who is becoming Nasarawa United’s main man this season.
Silas Nwankwo has stolen the show for Nikyu’s side this season with 11 goals in the league.
Nasarawa United have done well to recruit talented players with winning experience at the highest level in recent years. As well Ohanachom and Nwankwo, they also have Chigozie Obasi and Martins Owilaja.
This experience at the top helps the youngsters alongside them which include Aliyu Abdullahi and Tebo Franklin.
The next three games will help define what this Nasarawa United side is really about this season. A title six-pointer against Enyimba, Rivers United and Akwa United would be mouth-watering.
If Nikyu’s side carry on their run, then discussion of a first title in history is not so far-fetched.
4th – Kwara United – 46 points (Played 26)
It’s never over until the Harmony Boys sings. Abdullahi Biffo’s side are still in the race.
There is still much to fear about this Kwara United team. They, of course, have the league’s most dangerous midfielder in Steven Jude, but there are several secret gems in this side too.
Biffo’s Kwara United are back in the hunt following their win over MFM FC. Defender Christopher Nwaeze is becoming Biffo’s secret weapon with four goals.
Midfielder Jide Fatokun is enjoying a fantastic first season in Ilorin.
There is also no surprise that when Michael Ohanu plays as the main man, Kwara do well.
United need continuity following some inconsistent results recently. League games against Lobi Stars, Sunshine Stars, Dakkada FC and Rangers all await in the next four weeks.
5th – Rivers United – 45 points (Played 27)
Rivers United have tried their best this season with some exciting players to call on.
Stanley Eguma’s men are one of the most exciting teams to watch in Nigeria. To put it in simple terms, Rivers United games bring goals.
Sunday Adetunji is the talisman and prime goalscorer for the Pride of Rivers.
The Pride of Rivers might regret the 2-0 loss suffered to Adamawa United last weekend in Gombe – showing how vulnerable their backline can be.
That will please the likes of Samuel Kalu, Ahmed Rasheed, Samuel Nnoshiri and Joseph Atule when Katsina United visit Port Harcourt this weekend, but Sunday’s clash is the one to watch.
6th – Rangers (42 points) – (Played 26)
Yusuf Salisu’s Rangers sit six points behind Nasarawa United with a game in hand.
The coach has helped create an exciting attack with Israel Abia, Ibrahim Olawoyin and Christian Nnaji.
In midfield, Tony Shimaga does plenty at the top end of the pitch.
But question marks are still out about several areas of the squad.
Rangers’ fixture list doesn’t look kind with Enyimba, Dakkada, Wolves, Abia Warriors and Rangers coming up.
And what about the others?
Enyimba are in seventh place, they have struggled to replicate their free-scoring form last term.
The future of talisman Anayo Iwuala has been an unwelcome distraction amid links to bigger sides – keeping the 22-year-old on the books would be useful as they 41 points with 24 games played.
Lobi Stars have failed to live up to the hype they generated in Nigeria last season.
The story is similar for Abdu Maikaba’s Plateau United who are struggling to build on the success of last season. Some areas of the squad need to be refreshed.
The good news is that Ibrahim Mustapha is still a man to rely on with 8 goals. Zulkifilu Mohammad has also impressed. Sunday Anthony and Abba Umar need to do more to help them up front.