Ikhana proves his magic touch with tactical switch, guides Kano to victory
After Sikiru Olatunbosun's viral goal won CNN Goal of the Week, expectations were naturally elevated going into the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) weekend.
There was no wonder-goal repeat, but there was plenty of action to get hearts racing. Here are a few notes from the weekend:
Kano fans reclaim acclaim vs. Enyimba
Almost as if they felt insulted at being upstaged by Rangers last season, Kano fans are turning up in numbers to reclaim their spot as the city with the highest turnout in the NPFL game after game.
Their matchup last weekend against Enyimba, as is the case for most games against the Aba side, was guaranteed to be a sellout and it did not disappoint.
Way more fans than the capacity 25,000 crammed into the Sani Abacha Stadium on matchday, with some even using floodlight towers for prime viewing positions, and they did not go home disappointed. Kabiru Balogun scored twice, once from a free kick and the second a breathtaking, one-time volley, as Pillars raced into a two-goal lead.
But former Enyimba defender Chinedu Udoji handled a goal-bound effort to earn himself a red card and Enyimba a penalty kick, which they put away to halve the deficit. Playing the last 20-odd minutes a man down meant there were plenty of nerves jangling all over the place until deep into stoppage time, when Mohammed Gambo sprung the offside trap to hit the post, then tap home his own rebound and hand Kano a 3-1 win.
For all of the excitement on the pitch, the big winners on the night were the Pillars fans. Not only did they fill up the grounds, they were well-behaved, nerves and all. They are showing exactly who rules the roost when it comes to support.
Ikhana proves his magic touch with tactical switch
Staying in Kano for a moment, Pillars coach Kadiri Ikhana has been around a wee bit. As a matter of fact, Enyimba owe him a debt of gratitude for leading them to their first-ever CAF Champions League title in 2003.
Ikhana always has a tendency to shock and awe, which is exactly what he did on the day. When an influential centre-back like Udoji is sent off, the first recourse of any coach is usually to take off an attacking player and shore up his defence with the substitute. Usually.
But Ikhana is not your run-of-the-mill coach. While he did take off attacker Nazifi Yahaya, his replacement drew a collective gasp of surprise from the crowd. Adamu Mohammed is a burly, bruising, old-fashioned centre-forward, definitely not one to toss in at the back. And Ikhana did not.
Adamu's brief was to use his holding skills to keep the Enyimba centre-backs occupied and snuff out any ambitions they may have harboured of advancing to press home their numerical advantage. It looked at best a risky gamble and at worst a foolish idea that could have blown up in Ikhana's face. Instead, it worked a peach as 10-man Pillars went on to grab another goal deep into stoppage time.
Ikhana is again proving his magic touch.
Plateau United keep going, but Boboye needs control
League leaders Plateau United just don't seem to know what it means to lose a game, home or away.
Playing Shooting Stars in Ibadan is one of the bigger tests for any side in the NPFL, but not for Plateau. On their last visit to Ibadan, they claimed a 2-2 draw. This time, they were gunning for a win. Not only was the Jos side unfazed by the prospect, they even had the audacity to take a first-half lead and hold it until 70 minutes of play, when Ibrahim Adedayo converted a penalty for the home side.
As good as Plateau United's football has been of late, coach Kennedy Boboye did not cover himself in glory when he took umbrage at the opposition fans haranguing his bench and resorted to a near physical altercation with Stars officials.
Boboye is likely to face a sanction from league organisers, even though he will likely claim provocation. But the important takeaway for him must be to focus on getting results on the pitch and staying away from off-field controversy.
Different strokes for Rivers, Rangers in Port Harcourt
In the clash of the two CAF Champions League representatives, Esosa Igbinoba struck early for Rivers United as they held on to claim a 1-0 result over champions Rangers.
There was plenty of significance around the goal and the result. Rivers United snapped a six-match streak without a win, one that included three draws, two of which came at home against Lobi Stars and Kano Pillars.
For Rangers, the combination of a poor start to the season and their continental ambitions means they are dropping the ball at home. They may have managed to lift themselves off the bottom of the table, but they are still dangerously close to being pulled into the relegation scrap. This result pushed them that much closer to it.
The good news is Rangers can shoot to the top half of the table with two wins from their outstanding games. The bad news is they haven't shown the kind of form that leads to any confidence that they'll win both games. At least not on the evidence of their play in Port Harcourt.
Ifeanyi Ubah treading water
Inconsistency is plaguing FC Ifeanyi Ubah like a bad smell. For starters, they are only one of two teams so far to have claimed a victory over league leaders Plateau United. By contrast, last weekend's 2-2 home draw continues a pattern of dodgy results for a club that have spent a small fortune on recruitment and facilities development.
And the draw was not even against league heavyweights, but with Abia Warriors, a side struggling with their own demons that led to the premature stepping down of coach Okey Emordi just two weeks ago.
After their 2-0 loss to Gombe United, the club chairman issued a public vote of confidence on manager Yaw Preko. Considering he is their third coach this season, it is doubtful if that statement will have the Ghanaian feeling confident of his position.
One thing is for sure: The results will have to pick up if he is to keep his position.
Colin Udoh is a Nigeria football correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ColinUdoh.