Rangers bounce back with win over Kano Pillars as Kadiri Ikhana resigns

With the Nigeria Professional League having taken a midseason break after the conclusion of the first round of matches, only one game was played this weekend.

Most of the other matches took place in midweek, but there was plenty of drama both on and off the pitch.

Here are five highlights from the past round:

1. Rangers bounce back

Champions Rangers have suffered quite enough this season. But if their 3-1 win over Kano Pillars is anything to go by, it appears their woes are on the verge of being over.

That result meant the Enugu side ended a miserable run of six games without a win, and what a fine way to do so.

Ifeanyi George was handed his debut and responded with a goal and an assist in what proved to be an efficient win. First, he won a penalty kick within the opening 60 seconds and Chibuzor Madu made it count from the spot. They doubled that advantage inside another five minutes through Chiamaka Madu before George himself made it three on the stroke of half-time.

There was time for Adamu Mohammed to pull one back for the visitors deep into first-half stoppage time, but that was to be all the scoring for the day.

More than the result, however, was the way Rangers played and dominated their foes from across the Niger. They looked sharp, composed and passed with verve. Plus, they took their chances when they came.

That, more than anything else, is what will give their faithful hope that the club will survive their relegation travails.

While those three points did nothing to shift the Rangers from the bottom of the log, it cut their points away from safety from eight to five, leaving them reassured with three outstanding games left. Two wins out of those three will move them to safety, three wins will put them in midtable. From there, anything is possible.

2. Ikhana steps down

While the Rangers were making a resurgence from a six-match winless run, Kano Pillars picked up the mantle.

Losing to the Rangers meant the Kano aristocrats now hold that unwanted statistic, having taken just one point from 18 in their past six games.

Something was bound to give, and it turned out to be the coach. Kadiri Ikhana, who did not travel with the team to Enugu, handed in his resignation immediately after the result came through.

In a bizarre turn of events, the title-winning coach informed the media of his decision to step down. The Pillars, in response and via a statement from their media department, "accepted" his "resignation" even while admitting that they also only heard it from the media.

3. Obaje finds his feet

Last season's top scorer Godwin Obaje has taken some time to settle in, but he now appears to be finding his feet.

The former Wikki Tourists striker joined FC Ifeanyi Ubah after an unsuccessful attempt to move to Europe at the end of last season. He has found goals hard to come by since his return, but has continued to enjoy the support of coach Yaw Preko.

His double against Shooting Stars, as FCIU staged a comeback to win 2-1 in the last game of the first round, has now taken his tally to six for the season.

It is still some way behind division leader Stephen Odey's 14 goals, but with another 19 games to play, Obaje's predatory instincts could take him close enough before the campaign is done.

In Makurdi, Tony Okpotu was the star on the day, netting a hat trick against favourite opponents Sunshine Stars. That brought his tally to five in four matches against the Akure-based club in a convincing and one-sided 3-1 victory.

4. Transfer frenzy kicks in

'Tis the season for mid-term adjustments. The midseason break heralds the opening of the second transfer window and clubs haven't hesitated in offloading players in droves.

Abia Warriors have cut eight players loose. ABS have done similar work, releasing six players, as have Gombe United.

Champions Rangers simply added five new players to their squad, including former under-17 star Chidera Ezeh and former Ghana under-20 goalkeeper Seidu Mutawakilu from Hearts of Oak.

The mass offloading of players is something of a head-scratcher, with clubs pointing to the usual "low productivity" phrase as a getaway clause. Letting one or two players go is understandable, but five, six or eight?

And ABS FC now say they plan to organise "screening" to replace the fired players.

"We are going to recruit another six to replace the dropped players ... Screening for these new set of players will commence on Monday to Wednesday," said directory of football Alloy Chukwuemeka.

Excuse me, but whatever happened to scouting for players to fill the needs during the course of the season?

5. Rivers United rescue Nigeria's blushes

And finally, some continental football respite for Nigeria. Of the four teams that began the race, Rangers, Rivers United, FC Ifeanyi Ubah and Wikki Tourists, only the Rivers are now left standing.

The club, like champions Rangers, failed to qualify for the group stages of the the CAF Champions League after coughing up a 3-0 first-leg lead to lose 4-0 to Al-Merreikh in Sudan.

They dropped to the CAF Confederations Cup playoff stage and must surely have learned their lessons. After a 2-0 first-leg win, Rivers United travelled to Rwanda and came away with a 0-0 draw despite being down to 10 men for the last half hour after Ifeanyi Nweke was sent off.

Stanley Eguma and his wards will need all the luck they can get as they represent the country in the group phase of the competition.