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June 23, 2024

Relegation dog fights, by Patrick Omorodion

Relegation dog fights, by Patrick Omorodion

Patrick Omorodion

The Book of Proverbs in Chapter 20 and verse 5 says that “He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame”.

This could be interpreted to mean make hay when the sun shines. An African proverb also said that he that has a missing black goat should look for it before night falls if he hopes to see it.

The curtain of the 2023-2024 Nigeria Premier Football League, NPFL season draws today in 10 venues across the country. All the 20 teams in the league started from ground zero but those who made hay while the sun was shining for them are safe and far from relegation today.

Of the 20 teams, 11 are going into their last match today without fear of the drop. Out of the remaining nine, two, Heartland of Owerri and Gombe United who have garnered 38 points and 25 points respectively from 37 matches already know their fate and will play today’s match without any apprehension because no matter the result they post today, they are already out of the top flight.

The dog fight in the relegation waters is among these six teams namely Kano Pillars, Kwara United, Bayelsa United, Akwa United, Sporting Lagos and Doma United in that descending order.

Starting from the bottom, Doma United can only survive if they create a world record of beating visiting Abia Warriors by as much as 16-0, hoping that Sporting Lagos who are on three more points lose to Shooting Stars and Akwa United with same point as Sporting Lagos also lose in Uyo against Rivers United.

Sporting Lagos who brought life back to Lagos football after many years of lack of Premiership games in the city are on the brink of dropping out of top flight football.

To survive, they must desecrate Shooting Stars in Ibadan today by as much as 4-0, hoping that Akwa United fall to Rivers United in Uyo. It is a very tall order for Sporting Lagos though because Shooting Stars are looking to consolidate their hold on the fourth position which guarantees them a CAF Confederation Cup ticket.

Again they could upstage Remo Stars from the second position and pick a Champions League ticket if they beat Sporting Lagos and both the Ikenne boys and Enyimba lose today.

Bayelsa United who travel to Benin to confront Bendel Insurance could drop into relegation except they win or draw. If they lose today and both Akwa United and Sporting Lagos win or draw, they go down because they have a poorer goals difference.

Former champions, Kano Pillars are relatively safe, just like Kwara United with 49 and 48 points respectively. Incidentally both have their destinies in their own hands as they are playing before their fans in Kano and Ilorin respectively.

However, either of them could drop if they lose and the three teams below them, Bayelsa United, Akwa United and Sporting Lagos win handsomely.

For Bayelsa to leapfrog Kano Pillars and Kwara United, they must beat Bendel Insurance by 6-0 at least and hope Pillars and Kwara lose.

Akwa United have the best chance to leapfrog Pillars and Kwara because, playing at home in Uyo, they could beat Rivers United.

Of all the 10 matches to be decided on MatchDay 38 today, only two, Gombe versus Rangers in Gombe and Niger Tornadoes versus Sunshine Stars in Minna will not elicit much apprehension because the teams have nothing at stake except playing for pride.

Gombe host Rangers knowing they are last on the log and may approach the match without much hunger while Rangers who are already Champions could as well play their reserve team today.

Tornadoes are 14th on the log while the Akure boys are 10th, very safe in the middle, far from the dog fight of survival. Players of both sides and their fans could banter without the usual animosity while the game lasts.

Eight other fixtures, Remo Stars versus Katsina United, Plateau United versus Enyimba, Akwa United versus Rivers United, Bendel Insurance versus Bayelsa United, Doma United versus Abia Warriors, Kano Pillars versus Lobi Stars, Kwara United versus Heartland of Owerri and Shooting Stars of Ibadan versus Sporting Lagos will be on the radar of managers of the league to ensure fair officiating for all sides.

As it stands, Doma United are sure to join Heartland and Gombe for the drop. Only one more team is needed to join them today and it is either Sporting Lagos who are new boys in the top flight or Bayelsa. Akwa United though also in precarious position are likely to survive on home ground against Rivers United who have nothing to struggle for.

In place of the four teams going down are four new entrants, two each from the Northern and Southern Conferences. While Nasarawa and El-Kanemi from the Northern Conference are making a return, Beyond Limits of Ikenne and Ikorodu City from the Southern Conference are making their debut in the NPFL.

While welcoming Beyond Limits and Ikorodu City, it is noteworthy to mention that Beyond Limits is the Academy team of Remo Stars owned Kunle Soname, an individual who came to turn around private ownership of football clubs in the country.

When he introduced Remo Stars, many thought it will fizzle out like most other private clubs before it. It stood the text of time, moving gradually from the lower divisions until it got promoted into the NPFL.

Soname introduced professionally into the running of the club, owning his own stadium with welfare of the players and staff at top notch. No wonder the junior team Remo Stars have equally gained promotion to rub shoulders with the big boys in the NPFL. Kudos to Soname and all those involved in running the two clubs.