The 2020/21 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) ended intensely on the last day of the season as Rivers United of Port Harcourt and Enyimba International FC of Aba claimed their much-desired tickets for continental competitions.
Then, it was Akwa United that had the best spoils after the Uyo-based side grabbed their first NPFL title five days earlier following a flattering 5-2 victory over Mountain of Fire and Miracles Football Club (MFM FC) in their penultimate match of the season to finish the season on 71 points even with a game to spare.
Formed 25 years ago as Ibom Stars, the club began its campaign in the then second-tier Nigeria-Pro League but was rebranded Akwa United soon after gaining promotion into the elite NPFL in the 2007/2008 season.
The Promise Keepers, as Akwa United is called, would suffer relegation after just two seasons in the top-flight but bounced back two seasons later for 2011/2012. They struggled to keep up apace in the top-flight until the appointment of veteran journalist turned football administrator Etubom Paul Bassey as chairman of the club towards the end of the 2015/2016 season.
They won their second national cup in 2017 but stepped up the gear and recorded many firsts on the way to their crowning glory this term. While the club set a new record with their 18-match unbeaten run consequently surpassing the 13-match unbeaten sequence of both Enyimba (in 2005) and Kano Pillars (in 2019), coach Kennedy Boboye also wrote his name in the NPFL history book by winning his second league title after also leading Plateau United to their first title during the 2016/17 season.
However, the 2020/21 season will go down in history as one of the hotly contested with both Rivers United and Enyimba sealing the second and third position on the final day of the season.
Though Rivers United lost 1-0 away to Sunshine Stars in Akure, their rank was boosted via ‘boardroom points’ as the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) Disciplinary Committee awarded them three points and three goals from an earlier disputed Match Day 34 against Jigawa Golden Stars that erroneously fielded an ineligible player.
The decision means Rivers United ended the season in the second position with 66 points and 15 goals will represent Nigeria along with Akwa United in the forthcoming TotalEnergies CAF Champions League while Enyimba secured a CAF Confederation Cup slot after a 2-1 away victory over Dakkada FC in Uyo with their 66 points and twelve goals season’s haul.
Yet the race for the league’s top scorer award equally ended on a dramatic note on the final day of the season as Nasarawa United forward Silas Nwankwo and Akwa United forward Charles Atshimene ended the season as joint top scorer with 19 goals. While Nwankwo netted his 19th goals in his side’s 3-1 away loss to Abia Warriors, Atshimene scored his 19th in his side’s 2-1 away loss to Lobi Stars in Makurdi.
In the meantime, Jigawa Golden Stars, Warri Wolves, Adamawa United, and FC IfeanyiUbah were the four relegated teams at the end of the season and would compete in the second-tier Nigeria National League (NNL) next season.