NPFL MD33 Preview: Akwa face uphill task against Lobi, Abia derby in Umuahia

After a one month hiatus, the Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) resumes this Sunday with a full compliment of matches across ten venues.

The league was put on hold so that Rivers United, who had a backlog of matches due to their CAF Champions League and CAF Confederations Cup participation, can fulfil their outstanding games.

It was pertinent so that the run-in, with six games to go, they will have more credibility and everyone will be on the same games played.

NPFL MD33 Preview - Akwa face uphill task against Lobi, Abia derby in Umuahia
Photo by Akwa United Media

Match-day 33 preview

Fixtures

Home Time Away
Plateau United 16:00 Niger Tornadoes
Rivers United 16:00 Sporting Lagos
Abia Warriors 16:00 Enyimba
Kwara United 16:00 Remo Stars
Katsina United 15:30 Shooting Stars
Kano Pillars 16:00 Doma United
Sunshine Stars 16:00 Bendel Insurance
Lobi Stars 16:00 Akwa United
Rangers 16:00 Bayelsa
Heartland 16:00 Gombe United

Rangers who led the table before the break at home at the Cathedral to face Bayelsa United who have found themselves at the wrong side of the table.

The Yenagoa side are 16th on the table and just above the relegation places by goals difference from Sunshine Stars.

While Fidelis Ilechukwu and his lads will hope to cling tight to the number spot, Bayelsa will look to get points and help their quest to stay in the NPFL.

Plateau United are at home in Jos to Niger Tornadoes as they try to keep in touch with the top four in the league.

They sit in 6th place on 50 points two behind 4th and 5th placed Shooting Stars and Lobi Stars. Nenrot Silas is back to full fitness while Mbwas Mangut will be sweating on the fitness of Albert Hilary who has scored 12 goals this season for Plateau.

Tornadoes will bank on red-hot striker Clinton Jephta as they look to get something from Jos to help them move upwards on the table as they are currently in 12th place with 42 points.

More pain for Akwa?

Akwa United have significantly underperformed this season and are at serious risk of relegation from the top flight of Nigerian football.

Currently sitting in 18th place on the 20-team table with a paltry 37 points after 32 games, the 2021/22 NPFL champions face a daunting challenge to maintain their top-flight status.

In their next fixture, Akwa United are away at Lobi Stars, a team with title aspirations.

NPFL MD33 Preview - Akwa face uphill task against Lobi, Abia derby in Umuahia
Photo by Naija S8

The Makurdi side is fifth on the log and has an outside chance of catching up with the table toppers, Rangers, and second-placed Remo Stars. Both teams have a lot at stake, which means the game promises to be an exciting and tense encounter for league watchers.

Akwa United's journey to Lafia, Lobi’s adopted home-ground  is fraught with pressure and the high stakes of relegation survival.

For Akwa, a victory is essential to keep their slim hopes of avoiding the drop alive. The team must summon their championship spirit from the 2021/22 season to overcome a formidable Lobi Stars side.

The Makurdi outfit, on the other hand, will be equally motivated, aiming to close the gap on the league leaders and keep their title hopes alive. This clash is set to be a thrilling spectacle, with both teams leaving everything on the pitch.

In Owerri, a different kind of drama unfolds as Heartland and Gombe United, the basement clubs of the NPFL, face off.

While Gombe United are firmly rooted at the bottom of the league with 25 points from 32 games and have suffered points deductions due to fan violence, Heartland have fared marginally better but are still in a dire position.

The Owerri side have amassed just 29 points and have only six wins to show for their season, highlighting their struggles.

This match between Heartland and Gombe United is not just a formality despite both teams being effectively relegated.

Pride is on the line as neither team will want to finish at the very bottom of the table. For Heartland, playing at home provides a slight advantage, and they will be keen to give their fans something to cheer about in an otherwise dismal season.

Gombe United, on the other hand, will look to end their campaign on a positive note despite the setbacks they have faced.

Pillars and Doma clash in Kano

Kano Pillars and Doma square off at the Sani Abacha Stadium in a game that Doma will probably want it more.

The Gombe side have had a roller-coaster of season in the maiden campaign in the top flight.

At the start of the league they were firing on all cylinders and wee one of the front-runners in the first few weeks of the season but have fallen off and are now in 15th position and just three points fro the relegation places.

A loss will sink them further down the table, not that Pillars will reallyc are as they also have aspirations on their own.

NPFL MD33 Preview - Akwa face uphill task against Lobi, Abia derby in Umuahia
Photo by Rangers Media

The former champions will begin life without their manager Abdu Maikaba who has been suspended. Former international, Ahmed ‘Yaro Yaro’ Garba will take charge of the team until the end of the season.

Shooting Stars, arguably the most improved team since the second round of the season began, will take their continental aspirations to Katsina this weekend.

The Muhammadu Dikko Stadium is known to be a challenging venue for visiting teams, but Shooting Stars remain undaunted.

Having secured valuable points in Kano, they will rely on that experience as they head North-West, determined to continue their impressive form.

The remarkable turnaround of Shooting Stars this season has been a testament to their resilience and strategic prowess. Their recent performances have seen them climb the league table and position themselves as serious contenders for continental competition.

This weekend's fixture is critical for Shooting Stars as they seek to solidify their standing and keep their dreams of international play alive.

Their ability to secure points in tough away matches, such as their previous success in Kano, will be crucial as they face another formidable opponent in Katsina United.

Katsina United, currently in 7th place, have their own ambitions. They aim to close the gap on the top four and will be looking to capitalize on their home advantage.

Adding more points to their tally is essential for Katsina United if they are to achieve their goal of climbing higher in the standings. Their determination to secure a victory at home will make them a tough adversary for Shooting Stars.

 Both teams have much to play for, and the outcome of this match could have substantial implications for their respective campaigns. Shooting Stars will draw on their recent successes and their improved form to navigate the challenges posed by Katsina United.

Meanwhile, Katsina United will rely on their home crowd's support and their determination to break into the top three with six games to go

Enyimba start life without Finidi George

The reigning champions, Enyimba, face a period of transition as they begin their title defense without manager Finidi George, who recently took the helm of the Super Eagles.

Their first test comes in a potentially tricky Abia derby against local rivals Abia Warriors at the Umuahia Township Stadium.

NPFL MD33 Preview - Akwa face uphill task against Lobi, Abia derby in Umuahia
Photo by Enyimba media

Adding to the uncertainty, Enyimba's assistant coach, Olanrewaju Daniel Yema, who was expected to take over managerial duties in the interim, is currently unavailable due to a coaching course in Scotland.

While Enyimba currently sit comfortably in third place, their ambitions lie in retaining the championship.

They face stiff competition from current league leaders, Rangers, and the in-form Remo Stars who are above them on the league table. A slip-up against Abia Warriors, currently positioned 11th, could prove costly in the tight title race.

Rise and shine for Kwara United and Remo Stars

Second-placed Remo Stars continue their quest for a first-ever Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) title with a critical trip to Ilorin to face Kwara United.

The Ikenne side, just one point behind leaders Rangers, are determined to close the gap and seize the top spot. However, they face a tricky challenge against Kwara United, who find themselves in a precarious position.

Kwara United are currently in 14th place on the table with 41 points. Their primary goal is to secure their position and avoid being dragged into the relegation dogfight.

As the league progresses, every point becomes crucial, and Kwara United will be fighting hard to climb further up the table and ensure their safety.

The dynamics might differ, but at this stage of the league, both teams understand the importance of securing points. For Remo Stars, gaining more points means strengthening their bid for the NPFL title.

A victory in Ilorin would significantly bolster their title aspirations and keep the pressure on Rangers.

NPFL MD33 Preview - Akwa face uphill task against Lobi, Abia derby in Umuahia
Photo by Kwara United Media

Conversely, for Kwara United, earning points is vital for their survival. Each point moves them closer to safety and away from the relegation zone.

Sunshine Stars are in the same boat like Kwara United but theirs might just be more tanner. The Akure side are 17th on the table with 39 points are in danger of relegation as Kennedy Boboye’s rescue mission has not kicked off yet.

The host Bendel Insurance who have the meanest defence with just 25 goals conceded so far this season.

By implication, it means the Kwara attack have to be at their best to get pas 8th placed Insurance who are safe and basically have nothing to play for.

Any slip from  Sunshine Stars means more trouble down the ladder for them as the pressure increases on Boboye.

Rivers United have now completed their outstanding fixtures and face the herculean task of catching up with the leading pack in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).

With the distraction of continental games behind them, their focus is firmly on securing a spot on the continent once again.

This time, however, they must do it without their former manager, Stanley Eguma, who has been asked to step aside.

Despite this managerial change, Rivers United remain determined to climb the league table and secure a top position.

The team is set to welcome 13th-placed ‘Tech Boys’ Sporting Lagos to Port Harcourt, aiming to add crucial points to their tally.

With continental distractions no longer an issue, Rivers United's plan is clear: to fight for a spot in next season's continental competitions. The team's determination to return to the international stage will be a driving force in their remaining fixtures as the league gets into the final stretch.

NPFL MD33 Preview: Akwa face uphill task against Lobi, Abia derby in Umuahia
Andrew Randa

Andrew Randa is a veteran Nigerian sports journalist with over 20 years of experience covering the beautiful game across Africa. Andrew served as a Media Officer for Nigeria's U-20 Men's National Team for three years, offering a unique perspective on the future stars of Nigerian football.

Beyond reporting, Andrew is a pioneer in sports graphics creation within Nigeria. His expertise extends to sports kit design, making him a true multi-faceted talent in the African sports landscape.

Andrew's experience is vast, with collaborations encompassing prestigious names like Kickoff, SuperSport, the NFF (Nigeria Football Federation), and the NPFL (Nigeria Professional Football League)