Enugu Rangers - Lobi Stars Preview: Flying Antelopes ready for reigning champions

The Flying Antelopes midfielder has asserted that he and his teammates are raring to go against the Pride of Rivers on Thursday

The defending champions of the Nigeria Professional Football League, Lobi Stars will face a daunting task to reclaim the title they won by default last season, when they trade tackles with 2018 Federation Cup winners, Enugu Rangers at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium.

Enugu Rangers are the in-form team in the top-flight having won their last two away matches and are unbeaten in the league since their Matchday Four loss to MFM. They have played 12 matches and are at the summit of the NPFL Group A with 27 points despite still having three games in hand ahead of the second and the third-placed teams Enyimba and MFM respectively.

The Flying Antelopes have won all six home matches they have played and added two away wins against Kwara United and Sunshine Stars. They have also secured three points from away matches against Niger Tornadoes, Katsina United and Remo Stars. Gbenga Ogunbote’s men are a different team from the one Lobi Stars beat both home and away last season.

The turf of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium will present both famous teams who represented Nigeria in Caf inter-club competition. They were eliminated in the group stage of both competitions but were able to garner enough points that ensured Nigeria will present four clubs in Africa during the 2019-20 season.

Lobi Stars have not displayed the finesse that handed them the league title last season. They were declared the winners because they were the most consistent team and were on top of the league at the time the league season was called off on Matchday 24. They struggled to cope with the demands of playing in the Caf Champions League so the league fixture congestion has made them vulnerable.

The Pride of Benue must secure a positive result against the Flying Antelopes on Wednesday, to stand any chance of qualifying for the Super Six as one of the three teams from Group A. Enyimba and MFM and presently in pole position to pick the remaining slots along with Rangers who seem to be closer to confirming their place in the season-ending tournament. 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Enugu Rangers presently have the best assemblage of players in the domestic league. They also have good substitutes to call upon if those in the starting line-up are bereft of ideas or are tired. Pascal Seka remains Rangers most potent weapon ahead of the midweek cracker and his four goals in his last five matches for the Flying Antelopes made him the team’s joint leading scorer in the league alongside Godwin Aguda.

Other players that can cause Lobi Stars problems are Chiamaka Madu, Ifeanyi George, Nana Bonsu, Bright Silas, Aguda while the combination of Semiu Liadi and Isiaka Oladuntoye are available in defence to halt the Pride of Benue’s desire to get goals.

Lobi Stars also have John Lazarus and Ebube Duru in defence while the influence of Yaya Kone, who has six goals for the Benue State representatives cannot be underrated. He is, however, a major doubt for the game in Enugu. Sikiru Alimi, Austin Ogunye, and Michael Stephens are the other players that can hurt the Flying Antelopes if they take them for granted.