A year after narrowly losing the title to Akwa United with five points, high flying Rivers United look good to claim their first ever Nigeria Professional Football League title (NPFL), this term.
For casual NPFL fans it may be difficult to describe this considering the fact that champions, Akwa United, has lost out completely in the race this term, Northern glamour boys, Kano Pillars, struggling to salvage their top flight status and perennial champions, Enyimba, already 20 points behind the Port-Harcourt side after 34 match days.
Written off by bookmakers before the start of the season, Rivers topped the first half of the league and has remained on top till the conclusion of match day 34 proceedings.
To confirm their readiness for an early celebration of their title, Rivers United shared points on the road at Rangers, who were desperately searching for a victory to close the gap.
After 34 match days, ten points separate Rivers United from their closest rivals, Plateau United.
Like Rangers who couldn’t maximize home advantage, Plateau United had a tough nut to crack in Gombe United before their fans and both teams shared points to boost Rivers’ title quest.
Although Rivers United has played as a unit, the contributions of the quartet of Chijioke Akuneto, Ishaq Rafiu, Nyima Nwagua and Sochima Victor cannot be over-emphasized.
Akuneto’s arrived from Heartland to provide more firepower from the flanks, while Rafiu stepped up to claim a place in the starting XI after spending his early years on the bench.
Nwagua’s huge frame has boosted the goal tally of Akuneto as well as Rafiu. His absence from Pillars is one of the reasons the club is in pains.
To underscore the quality of Rivers this term, the duo of Akuneto and Rafiu have scored 30 goals, which is more than half of the 46 goals scored by second placed Plateau United.
In fact, both players have scored more goals than Katsina United (29), Heartland (29), Kano Pillars (28), Sunshine Stars (28), Wikki Tourists (27), Niger Tornadoes (24) and MFM (24), respectively.
With only 19 goals conceded, the team has also been brilliant defensively and has the best defence in the league.
Ebube Duru arrived from Lobi Stars and fitted perfectly as left wing back, just as Cameroonian central defender, Ndasi Kadiang, who was signed from Pillars.
Signed from Jigawa Golden Stars, Sochuma, pushed experienced stopper Theophilus Afelokhai to claim the goalkeeper’s position.
Sunday, June 26: (Away) Nasarawa United v Rivers United
Sunday, July 3: (Home) Rivers United v Kano Fillars
Sunday, July 10: (Away) Shooting Stars v Rivers United
Sunday, July 17: (Home) Rivers United v Gombe United
Drums of Victory
With two matches each on the road and in front of their home fans, it will not be too early to start beating the drums of victory considering the arsenal at the disposal of the gaffer, Stanley Eguma.
Indeed, this season is one to remember for Eguma, who last won the league back in 2011 as coach of defunct Dolphins.
The club was merged with defunct Sharks, by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State to form Rivers United, in 2016.
Eguma had a good start with Rivers in 2016 after finishing second behind champions, Rangers and was lucky to escape relegation in 2017. Rivers finished 15th with only two points above relegation zone to preserve its top flight status.