The race for the remaining top-three spots in both groups of the abridged 2022/23 Nigeria Professional Football League is finally down to the wire, with three clubs jostling for two spots in Group A while two teams are competing for the only remaining slot in Group B on match-day 18 of the regular season on Sunday (today), PUNCH Sports Extra repots.
Unbeaten Group A leaders, Bendel Insurance, with 33 points from 17 games have already booked their place in the Super 6, leaving eight times champion; Enyimba, Remo Stars and 2021 winners; Akwa United to fight for the two available positions.
Out of the trio, Remo Stars, who are currently third on the table seem to have the easiest task, as they host Kwara United in Ikenne today. A win against the Harmony Boys will take their tally to 33 points, and regardless of results from other venues, they will qualify for the Super 6.
Had Kwara United not secured their safety in the league, the permutation would have been different for Remo. But thanks to their 1-0 win over Nasarawa United in Akure on match-day 17, Kwara United have nothing to play for against the Sky Blue Stars. A draw will be potentially damaging for Daniel Ogunmodede’s side if Enyimba and Akwa United win their respective games as well.
Aside from the seemingly easy match-day 18 game against Kwara United, Remo Stars have toiled in the second stanza of the season to put themselves in pole position for the playoffs. After seeing their deducted three points restored, they boosted their chances with a priceless 2-1 away win over Plateau United in Jos on match-day 17 and are still unbeaten since the restart.
“We fought so hard and if we had given up, the points we have accrued wouldn’t have mattered. Nevertheless, we will keep fighting till the last day,” Ogunmodede told PUNCH Sports Extra.
Meanwhile, Enyimba and Akwa United have their work cut out in their respective games away from home against 3SC and Gombe United. While Enyimba are currently second in the group with 31 points, Akwa United are fourth with 29 points.
For Enyimba, a win against 3SC will guarantee their place in the Super 6 playoffs but that won’t come easy in Ibadan where they have failed to score a league goal since 2013. Thanks to their superior goal difference, a draw will also suffice but they will hope Akwa United do not beat Gombe United by at least five goals.
On the other hand, Akwa United will be banking on their invincible run in Gombe which has seen them win four and draw three games in their previous seven visits to the northeastern state. However, a win is what they require this time as a draw will mean Kwara United must beat Remo Stars in Ikenne for them to qualify on qualify on goal difference.
In Group B, the battle is between Doma United, Sunshine Stars and even Abia Warriors who are currently separated by two points in third, fourth and fifith positions respectively. Reigning champions Rivers United and Lobi Stars who are first and second on the log have already booked their places in Lagos.
It must have been a fairytale season for Doma United. Being their debut season in the topflight, the expectation must have been to remain in the league, but finding themselves in the mix of qualification has sparked a sense of achievement for the privately owned club. They sit third in Group B with 26 points from 17 matches.
Following their defeat to Rivers United in their rescheduled match-day 16 game on Thursday, the Savannah Tigers must now win their last game away from home against Abia Warriors to fulfil their wild dream of playing in the Super 6.
“We are in a tight situation at the moment but the positive is that we still have a game to go and we can go there and surprise Abia Warriors. We will review our mistakes from this and hope for something better on Sunday,” Doma United coach, Akinade Onigbinde said in Port Harcourt on Thursday.
“We have something to show to the people and everyone must have seen that Doma United have come to stay in the NPFL.”
Fifth-placed Abia Warriors who host Doma United must beat their opponents and also rely on Dakkada to beat Sunshine Stars in Akure in order to make a surprise entry into the top-three.
Although Sunshine Stars are currently fourth with 24 points, their chances of leapfrogging Doma United into third position is by beating already relegated Dakkada in Akure in Sunday while they hope that Abia Warriors will also do them a favour by beating Doma United.
The Owena Whales would have kissed the possibility of finishing in the top-three goodbye, but a spirited 2-0 win over Niger Tornadoes in Kaduna on match-day 17 has kept their hope alive till the last day.