By Promise Etim
Matchday 2 of the Nigerian Premier Football League (NPFL) 2023/24 season brings mouth-watering fixtures to the fore, one of such being the game involving 2021/22 winners Akwa United at home to newly promoted Sporting Lagos FC, at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium on Sunday.
Akwa United got the season to a stormy start on Matchday 1 following a disappointing 5-3 defeat to Bayelsa United at the Samson Siasia Stadium, while Sporting Lagos saw off Gombe United 2-0 in their first-ever topflight game at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena on Monday.
Fatai Osho and his lads would be hoping to get the better of the Lagos club to win back the fans after leaving Yenagoa with nothing, despite going in front on three occasions. Etim Matthew’s poor defensive pass seven minutes to regulation time earned Bayelsa United’s equalizer, which significantly weighed the Uyo-based team down for the remainder of that fixture.
This preview highlights some factors that could make or mar Sunday’s fixture.
Experience and youthfulness
Fatai Osho’s team look vastly experienced with lots of topflight football experienced players, as against the visitors, whose biggest asset is the 2017/18 NPFL top scorer, Junior Lokosa, who boast of 34 goals from 58 matches between 2017 and 2022 for clubs such as Kano Pillars, Kwara United and Remo Stars.
Sporting Lagos parade a relatively younger side with the likes of Jonathan Alukwu, Rivio Ayenrenwe, Chisom Orji and Isaac Onnor listed for the campaign. Alukwu’s stint with Heartland FC and Rovers of Calabar adds to the bit of experience garnered by players of the Lagos-based team. His superlative performance at the NNL playoffs and the NPFL Super 8 tournaments is a testament to the confidence reposed in the youngster by Sporting Lagos head coach Paul Offor.
Akwa United will be banking on the experience of Ubong Friday, Dare Ojo, Ubong Essien, David Phillip, Jean Efala, and the like when they engage the Lagos-based side.
Osho’s experience in the topflight complements the already intimidating array of players on the list of the Promise Keepers. The same cannot be said about the technical department, as the visitors depend on Offor’s ingenuity to topple the two-time Federation Cup winners in Uyo. Offor has previously been with Warri Wolves and Cotonou-based Premier League side Djeffa FC.
Akwa United would have to factor in some rejigging to their tactics and approach to undo what young coach Edward Green learned while preparing for the start of the season. Edward left his position as assistant coach with the Uyo-based side to team up with Sporting Lagos’ technical crew weeks before the start of the campaign. Akwa United recently added former Falcons head coach, Edwin Okon to their technical crew as technical director.
Familiarity will shoved aside when both sides clash. Ebuka Anthony, who joined Akwa United from Rangers, will likely face his younger brother Nnamdi Anthony, who signed for Sporting Lagos after a bright start to his career at Dakkada FC. Both players are expected to make the matchday squad and could play vital roles for their teams if selected. Ebuka will compete for a place in Akwa United’s back line, with the likes of Anthony Anioke, Wisdom Ndon, and Olalekan Oshomo all available for selection.
The defining moment for this fixture could be the ability of strikers to convert begging opportunities. Osho’s defence, that shipped in five against Bayelsa United, would have some work to do to keep Lokosa and Saturday Okon at bay if they are to triumph in this fixture. Okon led the onslaught against the Promise Keepers in the semi-finals of Naija Super 8 played in July, which Sporting Lagos came from behind to win 2-1.
The home side should keep faith with Hadi Mohammed and Seyi Oguntayo, who both scored in Yenagoa. Former Warri Wolves and Lobi Stars forward Kufre Ebong is also available for selection. Uche Collins could get the nod to start in front despite a disappointing end to the last campaign with four goals to his name.
There has been no meeting between both sides in the topflight aside the pre-season tournament, the Naija Super 8 this year.
Sunday’s game would be a litmus test for the newcomers (Sporting Lagos) as they face one of the most improved teams of the league in the past decade (Akwa United).