NPFL MD20 preview: Sporting Lagos seek revival, Lobi hope to consolidate

The Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) returns this weekend after the halfway break occasioned by Nigeria’s participation at the Africa Cup of Nations.

With that done and dusted, the race for points to win the league diadem or escape relegation continues around match centres across Nigeria.

Lobi Stars, Remo Stars, and Enyimba finished the half-season as the top three, while at the basement, Heartland is firmly rooted at the bottom, with Gombe United in 19th and Bayelsa United in 18th, respectively.

Photo by Icon Sport

Ten games are scheduled for the league return with two games on Saturday and eight games on Sunday. Here is a preview of Matchday 20 of the 2023/24 NPFL season.

Saturday battles usher in second round of NPFL season

Heartland will look to gain points on board on Saturday as the quest for NPFL survival begins with the visit of Kano Pillars to Aba – Heartland’s adopted group.

With just 16 points from 19 games, it doesn’t look good for them as Pillars, who are fifth on the table, come to town. Pillars defeated Heartland 2-1 in the reverse fixture to further sink Owerri down an abyss.

Again, with a new venue instead of the Dan Anyiam Stadium, the signs do not look bright for Heartland in the current NPFL campaign.

In Aba, third goes up against 11th on the BPFL table as Shooting Stars head eastwards to face Enyimba, who had a decent run in their last three games and are now in the top three.

Shooting Stars have not been impressive this NPFL season and will look to improve on that, starting with the trip to Aba.

They have lost a few players, including Kareem Ademola to the Egyptian side Cleopatra Ceramica, and goalkeeper Darlington Ovunda. Shooting have signed reinforcements like Hadi Mohammed, Sunday Alimi, Jimoh Oni, Adewale Yusuf, and others.

In the reverse fixture, Enyimba went to Ibadan and came away with the three points – surely Shooting will want revenge.

Boboye's NPFL rescue mission at Sunshine

Sunshine Stars and  Kwara United square up to each in a season that has not the best of seasons for both sides who sit side by side on the league table with 22 points each and the same goal difference even though Sunshine have scored more goals but have also played a game more.

Sunshine will have new gaffer Kennedy Boboye in the dugout, and they have also signed veteran center-back Godfrey Oboabona, who was in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations-winning side.

In the reverse fixture on Matchday 19, Kwara United came out tops in Ilorin with a slim 1-0 win over the Akure Gunners.

After a bright start to the NPFL campaign, Sporting Lagos, the ‘tech boys’ have had it difficult of late and will look for some sort of resurgence in the debut season in the top flight.

Photo credit – Sporting Lagos

They welcome Bendel Insurance to the Mobolaji Johnson Arena, seeking maximum points.

 Insurance defeated Sporting 3-1 in Benin in the reverse leg as they head to Lagos looking to continue from where they stopped without their inspirational centre-back Benjamin Tanimu, who has moved to Tanzania.

Sporting have beefed up their team for the second round as they aim to survive the drop. Wisdom Fernando, Pascal Durugbor, Jamil Muhammad, Adekunle Adeleke, Samuel Ayarinde, and Ezekiel Uzoechi have all joined their ranks.

 There are ten spots between the two teams, with Sporting down at 17th place as Insurance in the seventh spot on the NPFL table.

Enugu side Rangers International will continue their drive to the upper part of the table as they welcome Akwa United to the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium.

Sitting 10th on the table, the Flying Antelopes’ will look to compound more misery on Akwa United, who are in 15th place on the table.

It has not been a good season for 2019 NPFL champion Akwa United, who have just 21 points from 19 matches so far this season.

Photo credit – Akwa United Media

They defeated Rangers 1-0 in the reverse leg in Eket which took them out of the relegation zone but Rangers have been fantastic at home since they returned to the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium.

Abia Warriors  begin life at the Enyimba Stadium when they welcome second-placed Remo Stars as they seek to gain more points and push into the top five from their 10th position.

The Umuahia Township Stadium has been banned from hosting games, so Abia Warriors have elected to play in Aba.

Remo Stars will be buoyed by the addition of the Ghanaian duo of Daniel Akanbek, a midfielder, and goalkeeper Emmanuel Ofori as they look to consolidate their chase for the league title.

The Sky Blue Stars defeated Abia Warriors 2-1 in the first clash but will be wary of a hungry Abia side looking to do one over them.

Rivers United have not rested since the NPFL mid-season break as they have been playing to clear the backlog of games caused by their participation in the CAF Confederations Cup.

This weekend, they will face Gombe side Doma United, who are fourth on the log and are arguably the surprise team of the season.

Doma has taken the top flight by storm in only their first season in the Premier League and has garnered 32 points in 19 matches, a feat many never saw coming.

Though they will be fresher than Rivers United, Port Harcourt is always a different ground to go to as Rivers are very strong at home and will look to go further than the point they picked in Gombe in the last game of the first round of the NPFL season.

Bayelsa United have not had a good season as they sit in 17th place on the 20-team log and it doesn’t look like anything will change any time soon.

The Yenagoa side lost their main striker Robert Mizo, who scored nine goals for them before moving to Libya.

Without a proper replacement, it would be a miracle if they survived the drop. They did manage to earn a point on the road to Gombe in a 1-1 draw at the Pantami and will now look to earn all three as they welcome fellow relegation battlers Gombe United.

Gombe is second to bottom on the log, though on the same points as Bayelsa, but with a hefty -14 goal difference to show how porous they have been at the back.

Abubakar Bala’s appointment at Katsina United has seen some revival in the team, as they are now in the top ten with the visit of Niger Tornadoes on the horizon.

To add spice to the tie, Niger Tornadoes are Bala’s childhood club and one he has coached on three different occasions.

 It ended goalless in the first clash in Kaduna but Bala will look to continue his chance of the upper pack while Tornadoes, without a substantive coach at the moment, are looking to steer further away from the relegation zone as they are placed 16th on the table.

It will be a local derby, a North Central derby when league leaders Lobi Stars start the NPFL second round with a trip to Jos to face 2017 champions Plateau United.

Photo credit – David King/Plateau United

Lobi has led the pack for most of the NPFL season and ended the first half of the campaign on top of the table with 36 points after the 1-0 win over Plateau United in Lafia as the first round concluded.

Plateau coach Mbwas Mangut has reinforced his team with Lawrence Edward from Katsina United after losing star centre-back Chris Nwaeze to Ukrainian side Zorya Lugansk as the visit of the league leaders looms.

Sitting in sixth place on the NPFL table, Plateau United will start their push for a continental spot with a victory over Lobi Stars on Sunday at the New Jos Stadium.

NPFL MD20 preview: Sporting Lagos seek revival, Lobi hope to consolidate
Andrew Randa

Andrew Randa is a seasoned Africa sports journalist, and a former Media Officer for Nigeria's U-20 national team. He is widely acknowledged as an authority on the NPFL and African football, Randa is esteemed for his expertise in football content creation. Furthermore, he holds the distinction of being Nigeria's foremost sports kit designer and a trailblazer in the realm of sports graphics in Nigeria.