Bobby Clement netted twice in each half of the Match Day 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.
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 ‘worshipers’ have been trooping in like never seen since the shine went off the Rangers all white outfit. But Coach Imama Ampakabo and his young 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 on 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 on 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 Chuka 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, Coach Stanley Eguma saw his match plan to take a point out of Bauchi succeed until the last 10 minutes. Festus Umana lifted the ball high across the Rivers United goal area and it was knocked down by Abubakar Lawal for Waziri to finish and gift all three points to the Bauchi Tourists that now moved two places up to the third position on 54 points.
FC IfeanyiUbah saw their unbeaten run stopped by a brace from Yaya Soumaila in Makurdi where Lobi Stars snatched all three points after Ismaila Gata pulled the Anambra Warriors level on 52nd minute from the penalty spot. Soumaila had put Lobi ahead, finishing off a Kingsley Eduwo assist on 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 Okemiri who gave Abia Warriors the lead on 18 minutes but Douglas Achive 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 behavior 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 on 17th place with 41 points, though four more than Heartland on 18th place. Abia Warriors still have a game on hand against State rivals, Enyimba.
In Warri, a Sikiru Alimi strike on 18th minute helped the Seasiders pick all three points against Shooting Stars but the result still left both sides within the relegation fight. Wolves stayed put on 16th place with 42 points while Shooting also stagnated on 14th place with 44 points. There is still all to play for in the race to beat the drop.
Former Champions, MFM puffed and huffed to a nil all draw against strugglers, MFM in Port Harcourt. Enyimba remained a shadow of the stuff that made them champions last season and hardly troubled a more youthful and fast footed MFM side that were unlucky not to have scored on two occasions. MFM remained on 15th position with 42 points and still must win one match from the remaining two to stay safe.
In Jos, Plateau United piped 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 receives 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.
HOW THEY STAND
Team P W D L GF GA GD Pts
Rangers 34 16 9 9 47 36 11 57
Rivers Utd 34 18 2 14 36 28 8 56
Wikki 34 15 9 10 43 27 16 54
Ifeanyiubah 34 15 8 11 36 32 4 53
Lobi Stars 35 15 7 13 39 35 4 52
Sunshine Stars 34 13 11 10 43 35 8 50
Enyimba 34 14 8 12 33 31 2 50
Nasarawa Utd 34 16 1 17 39 39 0 49
Kano Pillars 33 14 6 13 45 38 7 48
El-Kanemi 33 15 3 15 36 37 -1 48
Plateau Utd 34 13 9 12 32 34 -2 48
Akwa Utd 34 13 7 14 42 42 0 46
Tornadoes 33 14 3 16 36 38 -2 45
3SC 34 13 5 16 39 46 -7 44
MFM FC 34 11 9 14 34 37 -3 42
Wolves 34 11 9 14 27 36 -9 42
Abia Warriors 33 10 11 12 30 37 -7 41
Heartland 33 9 10 14 21 29 -8 37
Ikorodu Utd 34 7 11 16 31 52 -21 32
Giwa FC 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0