Saturday 23rd September, 2017
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npfl-week-38-wrap

NPFL Week 38 wrap

ESPN - Monday 11th September, 2017

Plateau United dethroned Enugu Rangers to become the new champions of the Nigeria Professional Football League, and it was fitting that they did so by beating their predecessors on an electrifying Saturday of league football.

With second-placed MFM FC losing 2-1 at El Kanemi Warriors, Plateau won the title, their first, by four points as they beat Rangers 2-0.

But there was much more in play on the final day of the season. Here are five takeaways from a record-setting final day of football.

First ever title for Plateau

Here is a head-scratcher. Many of Nigeria's top footballers, past and present, either have their origins in Jos, or have been through its football meat grinder.

Of the current crop of Super Eagles, the likes of captain John Mikel Obi, former captain Ahmed Musa, winger Moses Simon, and defender Shehu Abdullahi are all Jos boys.

It is therefore perplexing that this is only the second league title for the city. The first was won by Mighty Jets 45 years ago, in 1972.

It is a similar story in the Federation Cup. Jets first appeared in 1951, losing 3-2 to Lagos Railways. They then lost six consecutive finals between 1962 and 1967, and another three in the five years between 1970 and 1974.

Plateau United then continued the losing streak, in 1993 and 1998, before finally breaking what many considered to be the Jos Jinx, beating Iwuanyanwu Nationale 1-0 in the 1999 Final. They have not returned since.

Port Harcourt boys win at last

Prior to their merger with Dolphins FC to form the new Rivers United FC, Sharks FC -- despite being among the oldest sides in Nigerian domestic football -- ranked as one of the most under-achieving teams.

Even when their football ranked amongst the most aesthetically pleasing in the land, under coaches like Monday Sinclair and Liberian Jokar Wreachar, the Blue Angels never did manage to win a national title.

In a twist of fate, two products of that under-achieving side have now won the Nigerian league title back to back, as coaches. Imama Amapakabo (coach of Rangers last season) and Kennedy Boboye (current Plateau boss) both played for Sharks, under the tutelage of 'Daddy' Sinclair.

Both men are from Rivers State, and both were born and raised in Port Harcourt, the state capital. Perhaps, one or both of them might be what Rivers United needs to claim a league title in future.

Disappointment for record-breaking Akwa United

Plateau United and ex-Sharks boys were not the only ones hitting new highs this season. Akwa United may have seen their season end in disappointment after they were pipped to the post by Enyimba in the race for the last continental place, but they have plenty to be proud of.

After a somewhat shaky start, the club finished the season with 17 wins, the highest ever in the history of the club. They also amassed 60 points, the first time they have tallied more than 50, and finished fourth, their highest ever league placing.

Plus, they are still in the running for the Aiteo Cup, which, if they win, could see them still take part in the CAF Confederation Cup after they missed out on it in the league.

Okputu makes his mark

One of the most consistent yet under-rated players in the league, Tony Okpotu flew under the radar so low that he was not even named in Nigeria's team for the African Nations Championship (CHAN) or WAFU Cup tournament, until three players, including former league leading scorer Stephen Odey, left for pastures new in Europe.

But his late surge saw him overtake Odey to emerge league top scorer with 19 goals, one more than the former MFM FC striker, who had led until the last two match days.

On the way to the top scorer's title, Okpotu became the first player in league history to score three hat tricks in a single season. He also moved up to third in the Nigerian league scorers list for a season, behind Mfon Udoh on 23 goals, and Jude Aneke on 20.

Shooting go down, again?

On the final day of the season, any one of nine clubs could have joined already-relegated Remo Stars and Gombe United. By the end of 90 minutes, only four points separated Shooting Stars (50), in the final relegation place, from Lobi Stars (54), who finished 7th.

Shooting however, will still be hoping their rotten season can be rescued if the league organisers schedule a replay of the Gombe United vs. Wikki Tourists fixture, which was abandoned with Wikki leading 1-0. If Gombe can turn it around and win the hypothetical replay, Shooting will be saved by a whisker. If there is no replay, Stars fall.

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