NPFL Matchday 15 Previews: Relegation haunted Sunshine Stars chase win

Tayo Alakija@Shengolpixs
Both clubs have huge tasks before them in their attempt to leave the drop zone as they hosts their foes among other midweek topflight games

Enugu Rangers-Yobe Desert Stars

The Flying Antelopes will face the Mohammed Babaganaru led side for the first time in the topflight on Wednesday with the maximum points at stake at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu. Both teams had constrating results in their last outing with Rangers claiming a morale boosting 2-2 draw in Omoku against Go Round while Yobe Stars were beaten 2-1 in Jos by Plateau United.

Out of both teams, Yobe Stars could be said to have punched beyond their weight limit with their current spot in the league table and the results they have had in the 14 matches they have played thus far in their debut season in the premier league. The Damaturu side may not be favourites to claim points in Enugu on Wednesday, but from the games they have played, they have shown resilience and have proved that they are a side that is very hard to beat. Gbenga Ogunbote and his Rangers men can only underrate them at their peril.

Rangers have not actually lived up to the billings based on their antecedents as seven times league champions, and their present mid table spot in the league log with 19 points from 13 games still ranks them as outsiders in the race for the league title. A home win will help lift the spirits of their fans who were delighted when they ended their over 30 years wait for the title over three seasons ago.


Abia Warriors-Lobi Stars

Umuahia will come alive on Wednesday when the current league leaders, Lobi Stars visit the Umuahia Township Stadium with a date with unpredictable Abia Warriors. The Warriors had a rare double over the Pride of Benue last season with the 4-2 win in Makurdi on August 6 last year the icing on the cherry for the club’s great escape from the relegation zone. They had earlier beaten them 2-1 in Umuahia in March also in 2017.

There is a lot to play for, for both teams with a home win sure to take the Emmanuel Deutsch side to the top five bracket from their present ninth spot with 19 points from 14 games, while Lobi Stars still with one of the most underrated coaches in the league, Solomon Ogbeide will need at least a draw to consolidate their leadership of the elite division with 26 points from 14 games.

If the outcome of this fixture is to be placed with the results of both teams' last five matches since 2015, it is save to predict a home win for Abia Warriors because winners have always emerged in those games. The hosts have Obi Samson who is on fire in the topflight with six goals to count on for goals while Lobi are also not bereft of talents in Austin Ogunye, Kadiri Samad and Ayo Saka even though they are without Anthony Okpotu who still has two more matches to miss due to his straight expulsion against Nasarawa United.


Nasarawa United-Katsina United

The Solid Miners have a lot to play for this weekend against the Chanji Boys. Their greatest motivation will no doubt be to ensure they are out of the drop zone at the end of the weekend matches and they will also want to get the maximum points for their coach, Kabiru Dogo whose wife gave birth to a baby girl few days ago in Ilorin.

Nasarawa United were unlucky to lose to Heartland of Owerri last weekend through two highly debatable penalties and the call for the suspension of match officials for the said tie: O.O Awosakin (Ondo), Busayo Ogunyamodi (Ondo) and I.O Awosakin (Ondo) by the League Management Company is in the right direction. The result had already been awarded to the Naze Millionaires and Dogo and his wards must step up their performance with a home win that could further lift them out of the relegation zone.

Katsina United with Abdullahi Biffo in charge have made serious inroad in the league table after they secured six points out of the last three games including the morale boosting 2-0 defeat of Akwa United in Katsina last Thursday. It was the first time the Promise Keeepers would be beaten by two goals margin this season. The Chanji Boys who are presently sixth in the league table with 20 points from 14 games will be more than delighted to achieve a positive result in Lafia on Wednesday.


Rivers United- Heartland

The Pride of Rivers were narrowly beaten 3-2 by the Pride of Benue, Lobi Stars in Makurdi under alleged dubious decisions and the LMC has set up an inquest into the said encounter with the match officials of the game in question: Folusho Ajayi (Oyo), Aina Idris (Lagos) and Abdulganiyu Abdulmalik (Bauchi) suspended from officiating topflight games until investigation into their performances are concluded.

Rivers United were expected to use their away win against Kwara United on Febraury 25 to mark their return into reckoning but they have only garnered a point from the last three matches they have played thereafter. They are under massive pressure to beat the Naze Millionaires on Wednesday to improve their current 14th spot in the league table with 17 points from 13 games.

Heartland are even in more dire circumstances than their mid week hosts. They are 17th in the league log with 16 points and anything other than an outright away win could see them slip further down.

Past fixtures between both teams since 2014 predict another away loss for the Owerri side with no drawn game in their last five encounters. Rivers United were victorious on three occasions at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium, Port Harcourt while the Naze Millionaires made their home advantage count with two home wins at the Dan Anyiam Stadium,Owerri


Sunshine Stars-Kwara United

This is an interesting elite division fixture between two relegation haunted teams with the venue being Ondo Sports Complex, Akure on Wednesday. Both teams have had their fair share of controversies this season and these have no doubt affected their on pitch performances with the Owena Whales and the Harmony Boys occupying 18th and 20th in the league table with 16 and 14 points respectively ahead of the mid week duel.

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The two teams have also had their coaches sacked and replaced too with Henry Abiodun called up to rescue Sunshine Stars with Duke Udi shown the exit doors while Abubakar Bala has taken over the reins of Kwara United from John Obuh. It is win or burst for either side.

When this fixture was played the last time in the topflight before the Harmony Boys sojourn in the lower league in 2015, Sunshine picked a 1-0 win in Akure on May 20, 2015 and even had a double over their foes with another 2-1 away victory in Ilorin on September 19, 2015. It isn’t all gloomy for the Ilorin side as they also secured valuable draw against Sunshine on August 12, 2012 in Akure.

It is not expected to be a high scoring fixture, but whoever carries the day will show serious intent of leaving the drop zone ahead of subsequent matches through the vital victory.