*New boys get ball rolling in Jos
*Enyimba defend title at Dolphins
- Pillars tango with Rangers
- By John Egbokhan
- At last, the first throw of the dice will be shoved this afternoon at the Rwang Pam Stadium in Jos as the 2015/2016 Nigeria Professional Football League season kicks off with Plateau United battling Niger Tornadoes in a carnival-like atmosphere.
- The stakes are higher this season with the winners after 38 round of games not only having the honour to represent the country in next season’s CAF Champions League but also walking away with a mouthwatering winners cheque from the League Management Company.
Last season recorded a marked departure from the old ways, with improvement in officiating, reduced fans hostilities and hooliganism and general better performance by the players.
- And the direct offshoot of these improvements was the crowning of a deserving champions in Enyimba, who won a record seventh league title, cementing their place as the best side in Nigeria since the advent of organised league.
- Though Enyimba start their title defence against Dolphins in Port Harcourt tomorrow, the fixation of other teams will surely be on the two-time CAF Champions League champions, as the scramble for points begins in earnest.
- Plateau United and Tornadoes were last season competing in the second tier but have now joined the big league, with its attendants twists and turns, meaning the stakes have been raised, with no pussy-footing allowed. Plateau will be targeting a winning start to their latest adventure against a Tornadoes side, who until a few seasons back, were playing in the big league before getting relegated and have now clawed their way back to traditionally habitat
- It promises to be a carnival-like atmosphere in Jos for this first match of the season, which Tornadoes coach Abdul Bidemi Biffo believes is one that his boys can win, if they perfect his pre-game plan.
- “We are expecting a favourable result against Plateau United, though it will not be an easy game as they will most likely come out to avenge the NNL Super 4 defeat but I am confident that we will win the game”, said Biffo, whose side will have the pleasure of monitoring proceedings of the other nine matches holding tomorrow.
- One of the games to keep tabs on include the clash in Port Harcourt between champions Enyimba and Dolphins, who managed to survive the drop last season by the skin of their teeth, with the former still smarting from last weekend’s Champions League preliminary round 1-0 loss to Vipers of Uganda and anxious to return to winning way to appease their travelling fans.Tomorrow’s game at the Sani Abacha Stadium between former champions, Pillars and Rangers will perhaps draw the most crowd as Pillars attempt to dust themselves up from last season’s capitulation, which saw them finish the campaign eight places behind Enyimba.
- Coach Mohammed Baba Ganaru, who was poached mid-season from Nasarawa United has his work cut out for him as the Pillars board has mandated him to reclaim the title, which they won for an unprecedented three times before Enyimba’s latest conquest
- And speaking ahead of the crunch tie with Rangers, Ganaru, under whose belt Pillars unbeaten run in Kano was ended by Nasarawa United last season, has pandered to the sentiments of Kano fans by promising to reclaim the crown from the Aba Elephants.
- While stressing the importance of the clash with Rangers, Ganaru said “our major focus is the opening game against Rangers, which we hope to start very well by winning it.”
- Rangers had an indifferent season last year and will attempt to turn the page around with a good result in Kano. As one of the traditional teams in the top flight, Rangers surely have a rich history but still lack that extra factor that yields results and trophies.
- With no title under their belt for over a decade, it is an unequivocal truth that the team fondly called Flying Antelopes in the days of yore have lost their range and might return to Enugu with the wooden stick from Kano.
- In other games holding tomorrow, Giwa host Ifeanyi Uba in Jos, Nasarawa welcome new boys MFM to the Lafia Stadium and Ibadan goes grey for the battle of the stars between Shooting Stars and Lobi Stars.
- And just some drive away from Ibadan, Sunshine Stars confront CAF Confederations Cup campaigners, Akwa United at the Akure Township stadium. After last season’s dying minutes capitulation, Sunshine will hold out hopes that their sun shines bright all-season long, as they try to exorcise the ghosts of topping the table for most part of the season only to surrender the initiative to the likes of Enyimba and Warri Wolves, who ended the season first and second respectively.
- Warri Wolves, on their part, have a tough away game at Heartland to grapple with, while new comers Ikorodu United aim to endear themselves to Onikan fans when they host Abia Warriors in their first bite of the top flight. El Kanemi’s confrontation with Wikki Tourist in Kastina completes the first week of the Nigerian league as players return to the trenches for pride and glory.