As at Week Five of the Premier League in this seasonâ€™s campaign in October last year, Kano Pillars had not emerged as a title contender and Ahmed Musa had just joined the ranks of two goal scorers alongside Ejike Orji (Gateway FC), Kayode Abiodun (Gateway FC), Amachree George (Ocean Boys), Kabiru Ibrahim (Zamfara Utd), Captain Ejindu (Dolphin), Osas Idehen (Enyimba) and Bello Kofarmata (then with Kano Pillars before his move to Heartland).
As at 24 October, the top scorersâ€™ chart was led by the trio of Sibi Gwar (Kwara Utd), Peter Obiorah (Kaduna Utd) and Afolabi Seun (Gateway FC), but the latter two have long lost their scoring form.
Fast forward to seven months later, Kano Pillars is now contending for the Premier League title with five-time champion, Enyimba, in a battle that is beginning to look like a two-horse race. The two sides at the weekend carried a seven-point gap over their closest rival, Warri Wolves, into the next round of matches and from all indications considering the stuttering form of the chasing pack in the campaign, the signs are clear that the fight for the Premier League trophy would be between two teams â€“ the Aba Elephant, as Enyimba is called, and Kano Pillars.
Head coach of the Peoples Elephant, Okey Emordi, told Naijaligue.blogspot.com after last weekendâ€™s loss to struggling Gateway Football Club in Abeokuta that the race for the title is still wide open but believes that his side has enough within its fold to finish ahead of Kano Pillars and claim a sixth title.
â€œIt is a difficult campaign this season. Like I said playing against the clubs fighting relegation at this time of the season is always tough because they usually fight for every available point. But I still believe that we have a strong side that will win us this title,â€ Emordi submitted.
The Aba-based side has an outstanding game to play against Bayelsa United in Yenagoa, which Emordi thinks does a little to tilt the title race in his sideâ€™s favour. In the past three seasons, the Peoples Elephant has not won Bayelsa United. However, if Enyimba want to keep up the push on Kano Pillars at the summit of the league log, a draw at the Samson Siasia Stadium in Yenagoa looks decent â€“ a result that would give the Aba side a point advantage over its title rival.
Before last Saturdayâ€™s 1 â€“ 1 draw with Dolphin Football Club in Kano, spokesman of the Port Harcourt-based, China Acheru, tipped the northern club to win the Premier League trophy this season. Acheru wrote in an email to our correspondent: â€œKano Pillars have all it takes to win the 2009/10 Nigeria Premier League. The team have shown good form in the league and have an awesome away record as well as are hard to beat at home. Pillarsâ€™ good form is as a result of years of hard work and proper planning and it will not be out of place to say they have all it takes to win the League at the end of the season.
â€œLooking at the game between Pillars and Dolphin, we must add that the atmosphere at the Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano makes it difficult for the away side to win. They have almost 30,000 fans backing them in every home game so you expect them to always give their best. We also commend the Pillars fans for being very peaceful.â€
However, all that praise on the Kano Pillarsâ€™ fans and the sideâ€™s almost invincible home record came to a halt after a 1 â€“ 1 draw last Saturday culminating in Kano fans going berserk on the visiting side. The crowd violence at Kano may have all together ended the dream of a second title for Pillars, which faces severe sanction including banishment from the Nigeria Premier League (NPL).
Apart from Enyimbaâ€™s outstanding game against champion, Bayelsa United, the run-in to the race for the title draws up interesting fixtures in the last five games of both clubs. Just like it did in Kano, Dolphin FC could still play yet another big role in determining the title race when the Peoples Elephant makes a short trip to the Liberation Stadium in Port Harcourt on 13 June.
Another Premier League side that could throw a spanner in the works of Enyimba and Kano Pillars are Sunshine Stars of Akure. The Akure club, seeking a continental spot for 2011, would play host to Enyimba and Kano Pillars on 30 May and 9 June respectively. Definitely the ride to Akure would be a bumpy one for the former champions and title contenders since Sunshine Stars have dropped only four points from 48 at home. And apart from Enugu Rangers, Shooting Stars Sports Club (3SC) and Kwara United, which have conceded a combined five goals at home, the Stars of Akure have shipped in only four and have a better defensive home record than Enyimba and Kano Pillars, which have conceded five and six goals respectively.
But 16 June could be the deciding factor in this seasonâ€™s campaign and the setting would be at the Enyimba Sports Complex in Aba. It would be the perfect stage to determine who emerges champion of the 2009/2010 season when Enyimba plays host to Kano Pillars. However, one man does not want to speak about that potential title decider in Aba. Kano Pillarsâ€™ head coach, Salisu Yusuf, apparently hopes that his side can wrap up the chase for the second title before the last day of the season when his leads his team to Aba.
â€œFor now, the concentration is our coming matches. We donâ€™t want to distract ourselves with the game at Enyimba because it is weeks away. But the most important thing is to concentrate on our coming matches and make sure we win after failing to beat Dolphin. Iâ€™ll want to leave the Enyimba match until then,â€ Yusuf said.
With Yusuf avoiding to crank up talks of a showdown in Aba on the last day of the season, it is clear that both sides may have to grease their machines ready for a battle that would end in a neck-to-neck finish.