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Can Akwa United still challenge for the NPFL title?

10:35 PM SGT 24/4/18
Akwa United vs. Al-Hilal
Having been held back by continental duties, are the Promise Keepers still in the running for the country’s biggest prize?


Akwa United set the 2018 Nigeria Professional Football League alight at the very start of this with a string of fine results which caught the admiration of fans and also sent them top of the log.

However, once their commitments in the Caf Confederation Cup set in, things began to change.

They lost steam and struggled to get results even on their own perch.

They would usually be wining at home in confident fashion,such as their opening-day 2-0 home win over 2016 NPFL champions Enugu Rangers, but are currently having to dig deep against their current oppnents.

This was the case against Sunshine Stars this weekend where they needed a goal from Victor Mbaoma two minutes from time to secure a 2-1 victory at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium.

This is not to say Akwa United have lost hopes of a title tilt completely.

Continental activities do zap some energy considering the fact that the team has to travel the length and breadth of Africa to face different opponents.

Abdu Maikaba’s men didn’t fare too badly either, staging a comeback against Real de Banjul in The Gambia after a 2-1 home loss in the first leg and then holding their nerves against Libyan powerhouse Al-Ittihad before progressing on penalties.

Coming close to dispatching another African giant in Sudan’s Al-Hilal last time out, after a 2-0 deficit from the first leg in Omdurman, is further proof of how strong the Uyo-based outfit are.

Now that there is no more Confederation Cup action to worry about, can Akwa United go back to mounting a challenge for a maiden league title?

The Promise Keepers - who sit in fifth place on the log - are within reach of current log leaders Lobi Stars and still have a couple of outstanding matches still to play.

This means they can easily catch up if they get the right results.

It’s worth noting that Maikaba’s men deserve some praise for staying fifth at this point despite the rigours of continental football. Most teams after their adventures in the Caf competitions fail to find their rhythm, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for United.

They still boast a very talented squad which is arguably the finest in the Nigerian top flight, and that’s probably why those remarkable comebacks have been a recurring theme. 

If the quality of the likes of Mbaoma, Ifeanyi Ifeanyi, Kelly Kester, Gabriel Wassa, Adeshina Gata among many others wasn’t there, they’ll certainly be worse off than they are now.

However, they've harnessed their strengths and it’s paying the dividends.

The second half of the season is yet to set in, and with the midseason transfer window comes another opportunity to add more quality in the squad, Maikaba could see his side grow even stronger and dominant.

Akwa United will have to contend with teams such as Enyimba, Rangers and Kano Pillars for the title, and while these names are the traditional powerhouses, the Promise Keepers' gradual rise from relegation strugglers to narrowly missing out on a top-three finish to becoming strong continental performers means they aren’t to be written off.

Do that, and you could be in for a shock at the end of the campaign.