There are games worth more than just three points. Games that fans look out for. Games that you can call heavyweight bouts and you won’t be amiss. Duels involving Enyimba and Kano Pillars, the newer generation NPFL Champions are such games. Be it in Kano, in Aba, in Lokoja this is your headline MatchDay clash and interestingly, just like most season before it, there is an undertone to this fixture as well.
Exit of several key players rocked Enyimba at the end of last season and the fact that a third of those players who left joined the Sai Masu Gida has done little to downplay the rivalry between these two sides. Chief of all must be that of the man who for the past six seasons was Mr Enyimba, defender Chinedu Udoji. It never seemed possible until it eventually happened. Chinedu Udoji now dons the Yellow of the Pillars.
Udoji led the exit with Center back partner Emma Anyanwu. Defensive stalwarts Razak Aliyu and Kamal Sikiru also swapped colors as did hitman Musa Najere whose goals did help Enyimba to their last League title two seasons ago. Idris Aloma as well and Bala Zakka competes what could be an all ex-Enyimba defensive six. When talking of Enyimba’s airtight backline who went a season without conceding at home, some of these guys were in the number.
For the visitors, they look to banish the painful memories of the previous season. The gamble to recruit Paul Aigbogun didn’t quite work as planned that year as they fell headlong finishing in their worst league position in recent memory. The man who would feel betrayed by that recruiting, ex Enyimba gaffer, Kadiri Ikhana would lead the charge against the people’s elephant against a backdrop of a usually animated Sani Abacha stadium.
Enyimba themselves have done well in their bid to banish the ghosts of last term. The shopping trolling recruiting style may appear to have caught all kinds of fish but there surely are game changers in their current setup. Maiduguri born prodigy Ibrahim Mustapha surely is one for the future while in striker Ismaila Gata they do have sheer strength and energy. Tricky winger Stanley Dimgba may not have settled in as quickly as anticipated but he is a game changer on his day.
Mfon Udoh looks a man reborn since the captain’s armband was handed him at the start of the season while new signing Solomon Okpako looks a foil of past Enyimba defensive midfielders already. Gbenga Ogunbote’s rebuilding challenge has had its mountains but no one would deny that progress is being made nonetheless. Aware of how his predecessor got maximum points against Pillars in Kano last season, he knows falling short in this will not help his record.
But beating Pillars in Kano is by no means an easy feat. There are principal actors on both sides for whom much more is stake more than the win and bragging rights. Udoji and co would be keen to show the ex that not only have they moved on but that the grass is greener up North. The visitors themselves inspired by last season’s result know a win is possible yet again in Kano and that sort of belief could be a springboard to success for Ogunbote’s ‘young’ team.