Halfway through the mark and we are set for what could be one of the best seasons so far witnessed in the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) having scored a total of Four hundred and Eleven goals (411), one short of last season’s tally at this same stage. Bearing in mind that there is still one outstanding match to be played we have had an average of 21.63 goals per match day and a scoring rate of 2.17 goals per match after playing 189 matches and it can only get better relative to the last football season. Teams now travel away from homes with high hopes of returning to base with at least a point in the bag much so that Enyimba Int’L FC boast of Four away wins , the highest so far in the NPFL. Returnee club Wikki Tourist are behind the Aba Elephants with three away wins on the log.
The biggest away win so far this season was credited to Sunshines Stars of Akure travelling all the way to Owerri to play the then inform team Heartland FC in week 7 with Tunde Adeniji joint top-scorer with 11 goals so far this season helping himself to a brace in that encounter. The highest home win record is credited to the same Heartland FC who scuppered the chances of Wikki Tourist from staying joint top with Sunshine stars and Enyimba as they were walloped 4-0 at the Rojenny Stadium in Oba, Onitsha in week 19.
Expulsions and caution cards have come aplenty with Yellow cards standing at 525 (as at Matchday 15) and Red cards totaling 28.
The biggest winners of this first stanza has to be Sunshine stars. Amassing 36 points from a total haul of 57 points, keeping their home record intact without dropping a point (the only club)as well as getting some few points away from home, has indeed lifted them to the dizzy heights of the table. The last time they challenged for the title was as far back as 2011 when they finished runners up to Dolphins FC (who are right now on a low) with Gbenga Ogunbote at the helms of affair. Enyimba Int’l rank as the best team so far in the league (my opinion though) garnering as much as four away victories three away draws giving them a total of 15 points from ten away matches, scoring ten goals and conceding same. Not bad for the six time champions. They are joint table-toppers with the ‘Owena Waves’ from Akure and are just slightly behind on goal difference. Wikki Tourist, apart from their disastrous match day 19 nightmare where they were brutally battered by Heartland FC have also been in imperious form securing three away wins and draws to put them on the third spot on the log. Giwa FC, Heartland FC and FC Ifeanyi Ubah are the other teams who have showed consistent promise in the first stanza as they continue their push for continental slot.
For Sharks FC, Bayelsa United, Dolphins FC and FC Taraba, they live to fight one more round as they will be seeking to better their precarious state in the relegation zone when the second stanza of the NPFL starts tentatively on the 2nd of August. Other clubs such as Akwa United, Kwara United, Lobi Stars and Nasarawa United will be looking behind them to avoid swimming in the murky waters of the season. Rangers International, Kano Pillars, Warri Wolves (with a game in hand), Abia Warriors, Elkanemi Warriors and Shooting Stars (who have been revived by Gbenga Ogunbote) will also want to improve on their mediocre performances in the first round.
TEAM OF THE FIRST STANZA
In a 4-3-3 formation, I choose my team of the season after Matchweek 19.
IKECHUKWU EZENWA (Sunshine Stars)
Fantastic goalkeeper whose impressive run last season was blighted with injury. The former Sharks FC player is back between the sticks this season and has continued from where he stopped last season. Testament to this is his first invitation to the Super Eagles squad.
NNAMSO EDO ( Akwa united)
Modern full backs tend to overlap these days and go out to score goals for their team and this has not been lacking in the games of the 20 year old who is also turning to a free kick specialist popularly called ‘Cameroon’. With a perfect three goals already this season (one penalty, one free kick and one from open play)he could still improve on his Six goals tally of last season.
EZE STEPHEN (Sunshine Stars)
The former Lobi Stars defender has been a shining star with the league leaders with so many man-of-the-match performances so far this season.
CHINEDU UDOJI (Enyimba Int’l)
The ever reliable centre back got noticed by the erstwhile coach of the national team Stephen Keshi and was given an invitation to the Super Eagles squad even though he didn’t feature for the team, but it says a lot about the towering defender who has been consistent in Enyimba’s backline.
JONATHAN ZIKIYE (Dolphins FC)
Even if his team is not doing well at the moment, nothing can be taken away from the left full back who has shone and even scored important goals for his team. He has gotten three goals so far this season.
PAUL ONOBI (Sunshine Stars)
A very solid and disciplined midfielder who has matched up his break up play and defensive duties with goal scoring can contest favourably well if given the chance to compete in the Super Eagles. In the absence of Ogenyi Onazi for our next game away to Tanzania next month in the AFCON 2017 qualifiers, I would suggest Onobi to Sunday Oliseh to fill that void.
NDIFREKE EFFIONG (Abia Warriors)
He broke into the team last season as a right back and has improved tremendously after scoring six goals (four free kicks inclusive)last season. No wonder Ladan Bosso has moved him further forward to get the goals for his team.
BRIGHT EJIKE (Heartland FC)
The leading goal scorer for his side so far this season and joint top scorer with eleven strikes, he is sure head above his peers as his ability to withdraw and play from the midfield makes him a utility player.
IBRAHIM SHUAIBU (Giwa FC)
The attacker has improved on his goal ratio this season and as such has been in lethal form with eight goals so far this season.
CHRISTIAN OBIOZOR (Enyimba Int’l)
Since joining Enyimba from Kano Pillars after his transfer imbroglio with the defending Champions, the former Rangers Int’l player has been very clinical in front of goal with his sixth goal coming against his former employers at Enugu in week 19 from the penalty spot.
TUNDE ADENIJI (Sunshine Stars)
The striker has already scored the same number of goals as last season with his eleven strikes putting him as the joint top-scorer and also his club on the summit of the table in the first stanza.
Standout Manager: Kennedy Boboye (Sunshine Stars)