After matchday 24 in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), the season is already taking shape as the top teams battling for the league title & continental places are being separated from mid-table teams and the teams who could drop to the National League are already jostling for survival.
While subsequent articles would analyse the title run currently headed by the seemingly unstoppable Plateau United who thumped newcomers and relegation strugglers, Gombe United 5-1 on Sunday and also got a surprised come back 2-1 away win over Sunshine Stars of Akure on match day 22, with this, Cheapgoals.com will look at those teams who could likely drop into relegation.
Shooting stars, Sunshine Stars and the duo newcomers, Gombe and Remo Stars are the four teams in the drop zone although nothing is confirmed yet as 3 points separate Wikki and Rivers in 15th and 16th respectively from Sunshine and Gombe who are sitted in 17th and 18th with the former two still to meet in a rescheduled tie.
Remo Stars looked like a team with no chance of surviving the drop at the end of the first stanza, having been in the 20th position for most parts of the season, however a change in form saw the Sky Blue Stars go on a 3 match unbeaten run with 2 wins and a draw to finally move out of the bottom floor which also means that they are just 4 points from safety.
Their next 3 matches see them face tricky trips to Maiduguri to face El Kanemi Warriors, a team they defeated 2-0 earlier in the season and Niger Tornadoes with a tricky home tie against Akwa United coming in between. Inconsistencies, lack of goals and poor away results which have seen them pick just 3 points on the road all season and also cost the team valuable points in some games so far and with the signing of Bright Ejike who has some top flight experience, he could add to their fire power but most importantly away points most be won if they must escape relegation at the expense of their Southwest rivals, Shooting Stars and Sunshine Stars.
Gombe United are also newcomers in the top flight but have shown a bit of promise with some unexpected results in the early part of the season but a recent dip in form plus a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of table-toppers, Plateau United has made them drop into the relegation dogfight.
Just one win and a draw are all the Pantami landlord have to show for in their last six matches, a 1-0 win over Katsina United and a thrilling 3-3 draw against soon to be dethroned League champions Rangers Intl in May has put their league status in jeopardy. With just 3 points away from safety and Remo Stars breathing down their neck, they must show hunger in their next few games against fellow strugglers Sunshine Stars, a home tie against Abia Warriors and a trip to Nasarrawa United in order to stand a chance of survival.
Shooting Stars on their part are no newcomers to relegation fights, the Oluyole Warriors only escaped the drop last season with just two points and are looking like they could do a repeat of the 2013 season when they finished bottom of the league and dropped into the National League.
After their loss to MFM last Sunday, the Fatai Amoo led technical crew was handed an ultimatum to escape the relegation zone soonest. The team face ABS at home, Rivers away and welcome Wikki Tourist in Ibadan in their next three matches as they seek to avoid their second relegation in less than 5 years.
Sunshine Stars appeared in the semi-finals of the CAF Champions League and Confederations Cup in 2012 and 2011 respectively and have finished in the top half of the table in the last few seasons but this season the Owena Whales have been embroiled in controversy, starting with the club’s failure to pay its players salary to be exiled from the Akure Stadium for crowd troubles and failure to control their players which occurred in their 1-2 loss at home to Plateau United on matchday 23.
The punishment by the LMC on the team for misconduct in their last home game showed the total disarray the team has found itself having lost twice at home (0-1 to Lobi and 1-2 to Plateau) in their last six league games winning just once overall, losing the remaining 5.
The Gbenga Ogunbote led side need to drastically improve their performance starting with their next game against fellow strugglers Gombe United, 2nd place MFM and Abia Warriors, if they are to remain in the top flight any further.
However, all four teams still stand a chance of beating the drop with the duo of Wikki Tourist and Rivers United sitting just 3 points over the bottom four in 16th and 15th. The difference between tenth placed ABS and bottom placed Shooting Stars is 8 points and with 14 games left in the NPFL season, anything can still happen.
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