Race for the title & continental tickets: The permutations

By Promise Etim

Plateau United are now regarded as champions-elect, with three matches to wrap up the current Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) campaign, as seven points from a possible nine could see the Jos-based side clinch their first ever league title, save for any unlikely mishaps on Matchdays 36 and 37.

With Kennedy Boboye in the driving seat, the major talking point at the moment is hinged on who finishes second and third respectively in what could potentially be an amazing end to a breathtaking campaign.

MFM FC are currently three points adrift of leaders, Plateau United, and their coach Fidelis Ilechukwu appears more concerned with consolidating on second spot on the log, rather than push Boboye's side to the wire, knowing Plateau United will play two of their three remaining fixtures at the Rwang Pam Stadium, Jos which has been a fortress so far this season.

In what could be the most intriguing battle for continental tickets in the history of the NPFL, takes a look at various permutations of the final three matchdays.


Plateau United, champions-elect
Plateau United need seven points from a possible nine to clinch their first ever title, if second-placed MFM get to win all of their remaining three fixtures. In what seems unlikely, according to bookmakers, Boboye's lads are tipped to secure the title even, before kickoff of games on the final day.

Aside from clinching their first ever trophy, securing wins in their remaining matches of the current campaign, will see them go past the 70-point mark set by seven-time champions Enyimba FC of Aba in 2015, with possibity of ending the season on 71 points.

Boboye's men are within one point of reaching Rangers' feat (63 points) of 2016 and are currently one better than what was amassed by Kano Pillars (61) in 2014.

Plateau United host relegation-threatened Rivers United on Matchday 36, before a date with Wikki Tourists on Matchday 37. They close their campaign at home to current champions Rangers International.

Engaging teams facing the drop at the closing stages of the campaign, is not the ideal situation any manager would love to see his team faced with, but for Boboye and his lads, they seem braced for the task.

MFM battle to retain second spot
After holding onto the second spot for most of the second half of the campaign, Lagos-based MFM FC are faced with the possibility of losing out in the closing matchdays of the season. They travel to Umuahia to face Abia Warriors on Matchday 36. Defeat to Kano Pillars at the Sani Abacha Stadium has sucked Abdullahi Biffo's side into a dangerous 14th position, with just a point above the relegation zone.

Despite having a five-point advantage, Ilechukwu's team have a huge mountain to climb in the coming days, knowing they engage Nasarawa United on Matchday 37 at the Agege Stadium, Lagos and further travel to Maiduguri for a tricky final day tie against El-Kanemi Warriors. The availability of Stephen Odey and Sikiru Olatunbosun will be key to MFM's bid to earn themselves their first continental ticket since gaining promotion to the top flight a couple of season ago. Ladan Bosso's men are also in line for a continental ticket. Akwa United, Enyimba and FC Ifeanyiubah are also knocking on the door.

Akwa United, Enyimba and FC Ifeanyiubah in tight race for third
The battle for the third and final continental ticket may go down to the wire. Akwa United and Enyimba are level on points (54), while FC Ifeanyiubah are a point adrift (53). The Anambra Warriors edge Abdu Maikaba's Akwa in a tight Matchday 35 fixture decided in Nnewi, while Enyimba could not get the better of Rivers United at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium, Port Harcourt.

The quartet of Alhassan Ibrahim, Aremu Afeez, Emmanuel Ariwa and Ifeanyi Ifeanyi played no part for the Promise Keepers in their two previous matches, but Maikaba will have them back when they host Lobi Stars on Matchday 36. Some cheering news for the Promise Keepers as Christian Pyagbara adds to the options for Maikaba, following his return from trials in Europe.

A win against Lobi will at least see the Uyo-based side hold onto third spot, depending on what transpires at the UJ Esuene Stadium between Enyimba and Wikki in Calabar on Sunday.

Akwa's Matcthday 37 date with struggling Shooting Stars of Ibadan at the Lekan Salami Stadium, may likely decide their position by the end of the campaign as either of Enyimba and El-Kanemi Warriors could leapfrog them to third, if they secure wins at Enugu (Rangers) and Kano (Pillars) respectively.

If the Promise Keepers secure three points in Ibadan on Matchday 37, they could be in pole position of even dislodging MFM on the final day, assuming the Lagos side fail to get a result in their trip to Maiduguri to face El-Kanemi.

Enyimba's trip to Enugu on Matchday 37 will decide their fate in the race for the third continental slot. Rangers, just like the others in the bottom half of the log, cannot be guaranteed safety, but the dynamics could change with a win at Sagamu against already relegated Remo Stars.

This could be a major concern for Sylvanus Okpala's side, who may not gamble on their Matchdays 36 and 37, knowing they travel to Plateau United on the final day.

FC Ifeanyiubah will need to win all remaining games to keep tabs on the final continental slot, hoping both Akwa United and Enyimba suffer some sort of blip.

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