This year, it’s Lobi Stars who are currently leading the standings, with the Ortom Boys four points clear of Niger Tornadoes as we approach the midway point of the season.
The Makurdi-based team finished seventh last term, seven points away from the continental places, and credit has to be given to them for turning the tide around as they have comfortably been the best performers in the top flight this year.
The Benue State capital club have dropped only two points at home so far and have claimed two wins the road, the most of any team, while also earning three draws. A total of nine points from nine away matches – in a league where getting results on the road is a real struggle –certainly sets Lobi apart from the rest.
However, does this mean that Solomon Ogbeide’s men are the favourites to lift the NPFL crown, and can they go all the way during the second half of the season?
Lobi Stars FC (@LobiStars) April 30, 2018
Despite their superiority, there a still a number of teams breathing down their neck.
This year’s continental participants in Plateau United, Akwa United, Enyimba and Mountain of Fire FC still have a couple of outstanding games to play, and will be desperate to put pressure on the Stars.
Even if they do, however, there's enough about this Stars side to suggest that they have the character and the quality to go the distance.
Under the watch of experienced Ogbeide, the Stars have become a closely knit unit, which probably explains why results have been coming so consistently.
Goalkeeper Olufemi Kayode has kept eight clean sheets this term, which is the most of any man between the sticks, and the team’s superb defence has been able to keep teams like FC Ifeanyi Ubah, MFM, Akwa United, and, most recently, Kano Pillars at bay.
The midfield, which contains the likes of Ayo Saka and Cletus Itodo, has also been exceptional - making big contributions at both ends of the pitch.
Last season’s top scorer Anthony Okpotu missed a chunk of the new campaign due to his involvement with the Super Eagles at the African Nations Championship in Morocco, but the Pride of Benue did well without him.
With Okpotu yet to rediscover the form that made him such a threat last term, other players have been chipping in with the goals. The likes of Samad Kadiri, Austin Ogunye and Ezekiel Mba have 13 strikes between them, and the team have proved they're not reliant on last season's top scorer.
Lobi Stars were previously Nigerian champions in 1999, the only time they’ve achieved this feat in their 37-year history.
They have traditionally been known to be mid-table finishers, and to take such a giant stride after finishing fifth and seventh in 2016 and 2017 respectively is impressive.
The second half of the 2018 Nigeria Professional Football League will be more intense as teams jostle to avoid the drop and make it into the continental places, but Stars have done enough so far to suggest that - if they can handle the pressure - they can be worthy champions.