12:00 PM UTC
Match 30
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3:00 PM UTC
Match 32
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6:00 PM UTC
Match 31
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Saudi Arabia
2:00 PM UTC Jun 25, 2018
Match 34
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2:00 PM UTC Jun 25, 2018
Match 33
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6:00 PM UTC Jun 25, 2018
Match 35
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6:00 PM UTC Jun 25, 2018
Match 36
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 By Colin Udoh

NPFL: Newcomers lead the way, Rangers slip, Mfon Udoh stars

Plateau United
Plateau United continue to lead the league (CREDIT: LMC Media).

Within two weeks of its kickoff, the 2017 season of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) has already seen five matchdays, as organisers race to conclude the campaign in time to align it with the European calendar.

There have already been a few twists and turns along the way -- here's what we learned this week.

Newcomers lead the way

Every NPFL club's target is to finish in the top three. The first two spots play in the CAF Champions League, while the third competes in the CAF Confederation Cup.

As things stand, if the league were to end today, those places would be taken up by clubs who have only recently returned to the top. Current leaders Plateau United, despite their rich history, were promoted this season, along with relative newbies ABS FC who were relegated under their previous incarnation as Bukola Babes and beat Shooting Stars 2-0.

For current second-placed side MFM FC, their first taste of top level football was last season and they only narrowly escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth on the last day. A 1-0 win over Kano Pillars kept up their good form, but to highlight the helter-skelter nature of the league, MFM were runaway leaders at this stage last season and it was only that early form that helped save them from the drop.

Plateau United in particular, under the guidance of young coach Kennedy Boboye, have been particularly impressive, staying unbeaten in five games to claim 13 points from 15 and playing their manager's signature good football to boot as they beat Abia Warriors 2-1.

However, MFM's experience last season suggests that this state of affairs might not last for very long. Enyimba and Rivers United are two established clubs waiting to pounce if and when any of the top three slip up.

Champions continue to lose their way

Enugu Rangers waited 32 years to become the Nigerian league champions again in a season where they not only failed to lose at home, but dropped the fewest points of any team in the division. On home soil their record was impeccable: no defeat and just three draws; the joint best in the league.

Expected to consolidate this season, they opened with a home loss in their very first game. Since then, they have managed just one win, drawing another two in a less than auspicious start. Ominous signs for a team competing on three fronts this term.

This weekend, they were expected to make amends against a team they have made a habit of trouncing: Niger Tornadoes. Instead, they gave up a one goal lead to draw. Again.

Rangers' poor start is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because despite recent improvements, there are many who still continue to believe that the old "win at home at all costs" mantra continues to thrive in the NPFL. Such a high profile home loss helps to chip away at such assumptions.

A curse in the sense that Rangers are one of Nigeria's two representatives in the CAF Champions League, a competition where Nigeria's recent showings have been nothing short of embarrassing.

It is never too early to start winning, but it is always too early to start losing. And Rangers need to put their celebrations behind them and get to work.

The return of Mfon Udoh

Two goals for Enyimba against Nasarawa United took Mfon Udoh back to familiar surroundings, the top of the goal scorers' chart with three goals from five games.

Three seasons ago, Udoh smashed the Nigerian league goal scoring record, his 23 goals eclipsing the previous record.

An expected move abroad failed to materialise and the 24-year-old returned to Enyimba. But a combination of illness and a loss of form meant he was not quite as effective in domestic competition, although he did plunder seven goals in the Champions League last season.

The forward is looking back to his predatory best, and on this form, could well propel Enyimba back to the title. But it's early days yet.

Golbe shining for Plateua

Speaking of goal scorers, Udoh is not alone at the summit; Plateau United defender Elisha Golbe has been stealing some of his thunder. Mostly because all three of his goals have come from free kicks.

On Sunday, he did it again, hammering in a pearl of a set piece to give Plateau the lead against Abia Warriors, and came close to adding a second until he was denied by some great goalkeeping. If he keeps this up, position defences will have to mind how and where they give up fouls outside the box.

Even a ball boy sees red

During the Rangers vs. Niger Tornadoes game, the referee was forced to send off a ball boy in Enugu for repeatedly distracting the away team's goalkeeper.

Your team must be in real trouble if a ball boy has to take it upon himself to intervene...

Colin Udoh is a Nigeria football correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ColinUdoh.


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