Sunshine Stars win Austin Eguavoen's debut, Rangers, Rivers falter
With most of the clubs in Nigeria's domestic league still on mid-season break, action was restricted to just two games this weekend.
Both involved the teams who had missed games as a result of their continental exertions. Champions Rangers and runners-up Rivers United have been playing catch up, with varying degrees of success. This was one weekend where the effect of those heavy legs took their toll.
Here are three highlights from the past weekend
1. Eguavoen opens with win
Former Nigeria coach Austin Eguavoen was officially announced as Sunshine Stars coach just days before this fixture, and dived straight into the thick of battle.
The former Super Eagles right-back went into the game knowing that the short lead up in time would be no excuse to the Akure fans if he did not come away with all three points. And so he set his team up to be aggressive from the off. But it was to prove almost the same of the same, as Sunshine plodded their way through a poor first half marked mostly by the lack of chances created.
Things came alive in the second when Ajibola Otegbeye converted a penalty midway through the half. Buoyed by the advantage, Sunshine attacked relentlessly and soon won reward. Later, substitute Thompson Ezekiel waltzed his way past the Rangers defence and their goalkeeper Akpan Bassey before setting up Alaba Adeniyi for a quite simple finish.
It is a great start for the reclusive Eguavoen, who has instantly launched himself as a fan favourite with that 2-0 win. While not completely out safe, the three points roll Sunshine out of the relegation zone, but still a long way off of leaders Plateau United, who they trail by 11 points.
2. Rangers recovery suffers setback
Two wins out of two lifted champions Rangers off the bottom of the table. A win against Sunshine Stars would have taken them out of the red zone.
But the Enugu club looked gassed out after a competitive, if less than aesthetic first half as they kept Sunshine Stars from creating any chances of note. Rangers however saw them pale enough undone by a penalty midway through the second half after a defensive handball. Once the penalty kick was converted, the champions wilted, then went on to concede a second.
The result has put their recovery in some check, but they still have two more outstanding games to make up. Win one of those, and they could be back in business. Unfortunately, one of those matches is away to Gombe United, who also find themselves hovering dangerously close to the drop. Won't be easy by any means.
3. Fatigue showing for Rivers
Two losses within the space of three days is testament to how much fatigue is telling on the keys of the Rivers United players.
Sunday's loss to Nasarawa United followed quickly on the heels of an earlier one at Katsina United. Save for goalkeeper Sunday Rotimi, whose heroism kept the score line respectable, the Rivers United team looked a lethargic shadow of their best selves. And it comes as no surprise. They have had to play league and continental games almost nonstop since the beginning of the season, logging thousands of miles in flying time.
As a matter of fact, the LMC were compelled out of sympathy to tweak the fixtures so Rivers would not play up north, travel home to the south to play Remo Stars, then make the grueling trip up north again to face Nasarawa. In any event, they lost both games and will now look to that Remo game to put some daylight between them and the relegation places. There will be no recovery time for them, either, as the second half of the league resumes soon.
Colin Udoh is a Nigeria football correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ColinUdoh.