Bobby Clement netted a goal in each half of the Matchday 36 fixture at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium to return the Coal City club to the summit of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) log after rivals, Rivers United went down to a Christopher Waziri goal in Bauchi against Wikki Tourists on Sunday.
As though there has been a premonition of what the Flying Antelopes will turn the season into, the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium was renamed the Cathedral at the start of the season and ‘worshippers’ have been trooping in like never seen since the shine went off the Rangers all white outfit. But Rangers coach Imama Amapakabo and his squad seem to have the right kind of vim to return the sheen.
Sunshine Stars started the match in Enugu perhaps with an intent to curtail their hosts and they did just that for most of the first half until the last quarter when lanky Bobby Clement made his physical attributes count. Rangers thus climbed to 57 points, one point ahead of former leaders, Rivers United.
The ball bubbled inside the Akure Gunners box in the 37th minute and Clement pounced to score, picking his spot to put the Flying Antelopes ahead. Sunshine Stars looked like they switched plans from their defensive intent to offensive when they mounted pressure for the equalizer and in the 41st minute, Orji Kalu handled the ball inside the box for a penalty. Dele Olorundare stepped forward but his effort was saved by goalkeeper Nana Bonsu.
Eight minutes after, Clement’s physique came in handy when he rose highest to head home a Chisom Egbuchulam cross. The rains poured down but Rangers held on for a win that may indeed be the turning point in their quest to break a 32-year title drought.
In Bauchi, Rivers United coach Stanley Eguma saw his match plan to take a point succeed until the last 10 minutes. Festus Umanah lifted the ball high across the Rivers United goal area and it was knocked down by Abubakar Lawal for Christopher Waziri to finish and gift all three points to Wikki Tourists that now moved two places up to third position on 54 points.
FC Ifeanyiubah saw their unbeaten run stopped by a brace from Kone Yaya Soumaila in Makurdi where Lobi Stars snatched all three points after Ismaila Gata pulled the Anambra Warriors level in the 52nd minute from the penalty spot. Soumaila had put Lobi ahead, finishing off a Kingsley Eduwo assist in the 32nd minute and with the fans growing restive after Gata’s equalizer, the attacker popped up to restore the lead 18 minutes from regulation time. Lobi overtook Sunshine Stars to the fifth place with 52 points behind FC Ifeanyiubah that stepped down from 3rd place on 53 points.
In another nervy encounter, Abia Warriors rekindled their survival from relegation with a first win in six games following a 2-1 defeat of Nasarawa United at the Umuahia Township Stadium. It was defender, Ogbonnaya Okemmiri who gave Abia Warriors the lead on 18 minutes but Douglas Achiv restored parity for the Solid Miners on 59 minutes. The goal must have sent the winless hoodoo scare to the Abia Warriors bench inside the stadium where fans were barred from watching following unruly crowd behaviour in their last game against FC Ifeanyiubah. But with three minutes left on the clock, an own goal from Abdulbasit Shittu ended the Umuahia side’s victory drought.
It however has done little to help Abia Warriors relegation throes as they only stayed in 17th place with 41 points, though four more than Heartland in 18th place. Abia Warriors still have a game in hand against state rivals, Enyimba.
In Warri, a Sikiru Alimi strike on 18 minutes helped the Seasiders pick all three points against Shooting Stars but the result still left both sides within the relegation fight. Wolves stayed put in 16th place with 42 points while Shooting Stars also stagnated in 14th place with 44 points. There is still all to play for in the race to beat the drop.
Former champions, Enyimba puffed and huffed to a nil-all draw against strugglers, MFM FC, in Port Harcourt. Enyimba remained a shadow of the stuff that made them champions last season and hardly troubled a more youthful and fleet-footed MFM side that were unlucky not to have scored on two occasions. MFM remained in 15th position with 42 points and still must win one match from the remaining two to stay safe.
In Jos, Plateau United pipped Ikorodu United 1-0 to officially confirm the club’s relegation back to the Nigeria National League (NNL) just after one season in the elite division. The 11th minute goal headed in by Kelechi John off a cross by Bright Silas made it mathematically impossible for the Lagos side to get off the relegation bracket with two matches left to end the season.
On Wednesday, Kano Pillars will host El-Kanemi Warriors in Kano while Heartland receive Niger Tornadoes in another battle of a relegation candidate against a safe side. Heartland will need to win the remaining three fixtures to stand a mathematical chance of beating the drop after amassing 37 points so far. Pillars and El-Kanemi still fancy an outside chance of getting into the top-four but one must cancel each other out on Wednesday.