18 February 2011
Two matches stand out in this weekends Nigeria Premier League clashes leaders Dolphin host third-placed Bukola Babes and Sunshine Stars tackle Kano Pillars at home.
Dolphin will be favourites to beat Bukola Babes and maintain a four-point lead at the top of the NPL, but then are up against a hungry, glory-seeking club who have not lost their last eight games of the campaign.
In pre-season, erstwhile coach Erasmus Onuh had boasted his bunch of young and unknown players will shock the top flight and halfway through the season, this has come to pass.
Bukola Babes daring, high-tempo football has won them many admirers and put youngsters like Abdulrahman Bashir, Kingsley Salami and Cletus James on the shop window.
Were a team of young players who are having fun in the top flight, Cletus James told MTNFootball.com
The initial target was for us to maintain our position in the Premier League, but with the way things are now shaping up very well we are now dreaming of clinching a ticket to play international football next year.
The Ilorin clubs new aspirations face a stern test on Saturday against Dolphin in Port Harcourt.
The match could well define our season. It will be difficult to win there, but a draw will do us a world of good, said James, who has been called up to the countrys Olympic squad on the back of a string of five-star showings at right back.
The title dreams of second-placed Sunshine Stars will also be tested when they welcome Kano Pillars to Ijebu-Ode on Sunday.
We have prepared very well for this match against a good side like Pillars and I believe we will carry the day, said left back Daniel Mendi, a substitute in last weeks 2-0 home win over Ocean Boys.
They will have the services of their B internationals like Ukeyima Akombo and Cletus Itodo, so also Pillars, who could call on Gambo Mohammed, Sherif Isa, Joseph Thompson and Abdulwasiu Sowemimo. Elegant central defender Sowemimo made his Super Eagles debut against Sierra Leone in Lagos recently.
Sunshine enjoy a six-point lead over eighth-placed Kano Pillars, who will play an outstanding home game against Niger Tornadoes on Wednesday.
Kwara United, who got off to a flying start in this campaign but have since tumbled down to 14th position in the standings, will be hard pressed to a win at home against Sharks.
Coach Kadiri Ikhana has taken ill and missed the loss at Enugu Rangers last weekend. He is recovering fast but looks likely not to be on the bench again on Saturday.
Morale has sagged at The Afonja Warriors as they are yet to be paid their signing-on fees even though officials assure this will be settled very soon.
Struggling Jos clubs, JUTH and Plateau United, have finally shown their coaches the exit door and the new men to now call the shots could also find the going tough.
JUTH, who are at the foot of the table with nine points, face a very daunting challenge against resurgent champions Enyimba in Jos.
While local rivals Plateau United, who are second from bottom on 10 points, are away at a Heartland side still smarting from a 1-0 loss to Enyimba in the Oriental derby in midweek.
It will certainly be a reunion of two Eagles coaches Christian Chukwu (Heartland) and Bitrus Bewarang (Plateau) at the Dan Anyiam Stadium in Owerri on Sunday.