Enugu Rangers beat Ikorodu United 2-1 on Sunday and are now just one point from winning their first Nigeria Professional Football League trophy in 32 years.
On a day their title rivals Rivers United and Wikki Tourists fired blanks, the enterprising Flying Antelopes did the job in the first half in a game watched by millions of keen observers nationwide including Christian Chukwu, a former national team captain who guided Rangers to their last title in 1984.
Former Flying Eagles star Obinna Nwobodo gave Rangers the lead with a speculative effort that flew over Ikorodu United goalkeeper Adamu Azeez on 25 minutes before Chisom Egbuchulam netted his 13th goal of the season seven minutes before the break, rendering Paul Duke’s late strike as a mere consolation for the Oga Boys. Nwobodo did most of the work for that goal running from the midfield into the right flank and squaring across the front of the goal line for Egbuchulam to help in.
Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) followers across the social media had trended series of hashtags including # WhenRangersWonTheLeagueand #RangersChasingGloryamong others in anticipation of Rangers’ destiny and were all witnesses as Imama Amapakabo’s wards did what they had done for the most parts of the season, leaving them three points clear of second placed Rivers United ahead of their last game against El-Kanemi next Sunday in Enugu.
Rangers’ result was made the more sweeter for their fans when news filtered in that second placed Rivers United failed to win at home for only the second time this season. The newly formed club were held to a goalless draw by relegation threatened Abia Warriors who had a former Dolphins star, Chizoba Amaefule captaining them on the day.
Only Rivers United still stand a mathematical but less-realistic chance of usurping Rangers on the final day but FC Ifeanyiubah climbed into third spot after edging out deposed champions Enyimba 1-0 in the final Oriental Derby of the season in Nnewi. Defender Isaac Loute with the winner early on.
In Ibadan, Shooting Stars Sports Club (3SC) secured top flight status for a third successive year after Samuel Olabisi’s 51st minute header gave them a 1-0 win over Wikki Tourists of Bauchi. The result also effectively ended Tourists’ slight hopes of snatching the league crown from within the grasps of the front runners.
Another team that guaranteed themselves of a further stay in the NPFL was Niger Tornadoes who dispatched MFM FC 3-1 at the Confluence Stadium in Lokoja. In-form attacker Solomon Owello scored twice from the penalty spot in the first half before left back Gabriel Wassa took the game beyond the visitors five minutes after the interval. Youngster Stephen Odey scored a consolation goal for the Lagosians who drop to the relegation zone and now have it all to do on the final day against Ifeanyiubah in Lagos.
While Tornadoes steered clear of the drop, 10-man Warri Wolves dropped deeper into the mess after a narrow loss at Sunshine Stars of Akure. Pint-sized midfielder Dayo Ojo headed home the only goal of the contest just after the hour mark before Wolves skipper Goodluck Onamado was sent off later on for a second bookable offense in a game played behind closed doors.
In Owerri, former Heartland goalkeeper David Obiazo produced a man-of-the-match performance, but was not enough to deny the Naze Millionaires maximum points against former champions Kano Pillars. Emeka Ogbugh scored the only goal of the game shortly after Obiazo had saved Macmarcel Obioha’s spot kick. The win takes Heartland just outside the relegation zone needing a win at Plateau United on the final day to be sure of safety.
In Maiduguri, El-Kanemi Warriors made it twelve straight home wins since returning home after a hard earned 1-0 win over Plateau United. Hussain Mohammed Bata scored the only goal of the game from the penalty spot just before the hour mark.
In the day’s final game, Nasarawa United needed a stoppage time equalizer to deny visiting Akwa United the maximum points at the Aper Aku Stadium in Makurdi. Esosa Igbinoba put the hosts in front from the penalty spot early in the game but Akwa responded with quick fire goals from Hassan Babangida and Cyril Olisema. Akwa United then had midfielder Yusuf Adio sent off six minutes from time before their hosts pulled level with virtually the last kick of the game.