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NPFL ends early: Who are the winners & losers?

The 2017/18 Nigeria Professional Football League was brought to a premature conclusion by the League Management Company after 24 matches on Friday.

The decision was taken in light of the lingering administrative crisis enveloping the nation's sport, and a resolution was taken in order to prevent Nigeria from losing their continental places next season.

While all of the NPFL teams reportedly agreed on the resolution, the decision has led to mixed consequences for various teams and individuals associated with the league.

Winners

Lobi Stars: The Makurdi-based club are surely the biggest winners of the league's decision, as they have been given a spot in next year's CAF Champions League as Nigeria's representatives.

While they may not have ultimately gone on to win the league in their remaining 14 matches, they were in top spot at the right time and will now feature in continental competition for the second time in their history.

The Ortom Boys racked up 13 wins, claiming two away victories at Enugu Rangers and Heartland, and won all but one of their home games.

A 43-point tally was good enough to see them hold a two-point advantage on nearest rivals Akwa United by the time the league took a one-month hiatus for the World Cup, and they now get the chance to re-taste African competition.

The bottom four: The LMC opted not to relegate any of the teams in the division, with the bottom four of FC Ifeanyi Ubah, Sunshine Stars, Yobe Desert Stars and Heartland saved from a drop to the second tier.

Heartland, in particular, were eight points off safety and looked destined for a return to the National League.

The quartet will now get the chance to improve their fortunes in the top tier again next term.

Losers

Junior Lokosa: If there is any individual that should feel particularly hurt by the decision to prematurely end the league, then it's Lokosa.

The prolific 25-year-old Kano Pillars forward was firmly on course to smash the 23-goal league record in only his first full season in the top flight, having scored 19 in 21 games.

He was only two strikes away from equalling Mfon Udoh's four-year record, as set in 2014.

The LMC's decision has denied Lokosa the chance to make history, and means the NPFL miss out on - potentially - their first 30-goal hitman.

With 14 games to go, Lokosa appeared firmly on course to hit that mark.

The title contenders: At the start of the season, Lobi Stars weren't amongst the top three teams tipped to mount a title challenge.

Akwa United, Kano Pillars and defending champions Plateau United were among the favourites for the championship, and the first two in particular may feel disappointed to have been denied the opportunity to replace Stars at the top of the log.

United were only two points off the top at the time of the league's premature cumulation, and considering the points they'd dropped earlier in the campaign due to the distraction of their CAF Confederation Cup campaign, they'd surely have been expecting to end the year strongly.

Pillars will also believe that they could have climbed higher than third, particularly considering the form of Lokosa.

However, a combination of their frustrating inability to win away from home, as well as dropped points at home to Enyimba, Niger Tornadoes and Rivers United largely contributed to Sai Masu Gida's failure to return to the continent.

The league: In an era when there is a massive social media drive by the league organisers to encourage football fans to troop out in their numbers to the stadiums on matchdays, the latest decision further reduces the credibility of the division, probably to an all-time low.

The momentum gained in the past two seasons in the area of fan interactions could count for nothing in the coming months, as the European football leagues, notably the Premier League, continue to attract the NPFL's core fanbase.

The decision may also deter existing and potential investors from partnering with the league, which could further make it harder for the division to support themselves in future season.

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