For the second time in four days, two of the grand football establishments in Nigerian football, Rivers United FC and Shooting Stars Sports Club (3SC), go toe to toe in a high stakes football match.
After battling themselves to a standstill in a Federation Cup round of 16 game at the Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna that lived up to the hype, both sides turn their attention to the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) which has now entered match day 27.
The two sides have hugely contrasting ambitions in the league this season.
United are firmly in the title race but know they can ill afford any margin for error especially after watching title rivals, Enugu Rangers produce a sparkling display enroute a stunning 3-2 victory over Akwa United in Uyo on Saturday.
For 3SC, avoiding the drop to the Nigeria National League (NNL, the second tier of Nigerian football) at the end of the season will be viewed as monumental success.
Head coach of the Oluyole Warriors, Gbenga Ogunbote believes the feat will be achieved.
“We will not be relegated at the end of the season. It is something I strongly believe. The turning point of our season will be (on Sunday) when we beat Rivers United in Port Harcourt,” he told Rivers United Media.
Grand and lofty words especially as Rivers United have only dropped two points at home all season.
Ogunbote however believes his charges can pull the chestnut out of the fire after pushing the Pride of Rivers to the limit in the Federation Cup on Wednesday-a game which required a penalty shootout to produce a winner.
“If that Federation Cup game in Kaduna was a league game, we would have gotten a point.
“I hope my players will not be psychologically affected by the manner they lost to Rivers United last time out but that is where maturity comes in. </p>
“I will be very surprised if we lose in Port Harcourt on Sunday,” he added.
Ajani Ibrahim impressed in Kaduna against United and should start on Sunday. Emanuel Fabiyi, James Moses, captain, Promise Ebiaku, Izu James and Osawe Alaba are also trusted stalwarts that Ogunbote will be relying on to deliver the goods against the Port Harcourt club.
Striker, Sunday Adetunji missed a glorious chance to score for 3SC against Rivers United in Kaduna but he will be looking to put that firmly behind him if given the nod to start on Sunday.
Adetunji will receive support upfront from Jimoh Olawale, Babalola Ibrahim and Fawaz Otun while Nonso Ogbonna and Suraj Sadiq can always produce ammunition from the bench if things are not going according to script.
Heads have dropped slightly in the United camp following Rangers’ 3-2 win in Uyo against Akwa United on Saturday which means that even a win against 3SC will not be enough to see the Port Harcourt club claim top spot on Sunday.
Technical manager of the club, Stanley Eguma is however focussing on the task at hand.
“That we beat 3SC in the Federation Cup on Wednesday does not mean we will just walk into the pitch and beat them on Sunday.
“It does not work that way and we have to work very hard to get the win.
“One positive is that we now know how they (3SC) play and we will prepare accordingly,” he said.
A win for United will take them one place up on the log to second unless Wikki Tourists avoid defeat to Niger Tornadoes in Lokoja.
Form guide (last five matches)
Rivers United (WLLWD)
Rivers United 4-1 MFM FC (H)
Rivers United 0-2 FCIU (A)
Rivers United 0-1 Nasarawa United (A)
Rivers United 1-0 Niger Tornadoes (H)
Rivers United 0-0 3SC (Neutral venue)
Shooting Stars (WDWWL)
Shooting Stars 1-0 Enyimba (H)
Shooting Stars 1-0 MFM FC (A)
Shooting Stars 2-2 FCIU
Shooting Stars 2-1 Nasarawa United
Shooting Stars 0-0 Rivers United (Neutral venue)