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 By Colin Udoh

Alhassan grabs hat trick for Akwa while Nasarawa run riot in NPFL

Akwa United celebrate a goal during their NPFL match.
Akwa United ran out 4-2 victors over Shooting Stars SC.

It was a weekend of cheers and jeers in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) action.

Akwa United and Nasarawa United both scored four goals apiece, Akwa's Alhassan Ibrahim helping himself to a hat trick in the process.

On the flip side, the biggest game of the weekend was played to near-empty stands despite the rivalry and size of the two clubs involved.

Here are five takeaways from the weekend's action:

1. Ibrahim Alhassan joins hat trick brigade

Ibrahim Alhassan might be just what the doctor ordered for Akwa United.

Riveted to the bottom half of the table at the start of the campaign despite being one of the bigger spending sides in the division, Akwa United have since bounced back. They are not only making steady progress, but have now broken into the top half of the table.

And the goals of Ibrahim Alhassan have been pivotal to that revival. The lanky forward missed Akwa United's last game -- a road trip to Lobi Stars which ended in a 0-1 loss -- due to a slight injury. But on Sunday he was back again. And what a return it proved to be.

The forward stunned 3SC with a 16-minute hat trick in the first half as Akwa United romped to a 4-0 lead. Although they conceded twice in the second half to end the score at 4-2, it was a consummate display of clinical efficiency from the striker, one which took his season's tally to nine. He joins top scorer Stephen Odey and Stephen Bala as the only three players to have plundered a hat trick this season.

2. Nasarawa expose MFM weakness

Shooting Stars were not the only side to concede four goals this matchweek. Occasional league leaders MFM FC were thrashed by Nasarawa United, who put four past them in a scintillating tactical display. At least 3SC got two goals back. MFM got nothing.

But there is more to this, and herein lies the real story. Nasarawa coach Kabiru Dogo said this at the postmatch news conference: "We know MFM play very well in the first half and fade out in the second half. So we tried to stop them from playing in the first half. As soon as the first half was over, I knew we had done it."

That is some revelation, that MFM are a one-half team, and one that other sides might look to exploit in the coming weeks. MFM coach Fidelis Ilechukwu, who has just returned from a CAF B Licence coaching course in Abuja, might want to address this.

3. Rivers lose after Eguma suspension

In the buildup to this week's game, the news in Port Harcourt was about the suspension of Rivers United coach Stanley Eguma, who was handed a one-match suspension for arriving at the ground 18 minutes after kickoff.

Eguma claims he was actually present and had only stepped out to take a phone call. However, reports around the club are that he is a serial latecomer and this latest incident was one too much for his boss, the Sports Commissioner, to take.

In any case, United, led by Eguma's assistant Willy Udube, lost 0-1 at Gombe United, a result that piles even further pressure on the club, especially with a CAF Confederatuon Cup playoff on the horizon. Since being eliminated from the CAF Champions League, the club, along with fellow Champions League losers Rangers, have been stuck at the bottom two places in the league. Eguma, and Rivers United need to get their act together. Fast.

4. Mfon Udoh wager

Enyimba captain Mfon Udoh led his team out against champions Rangers in what was without a doubt, the biggest game of the weekend.

Udoh, along with another Udoh, left-back Ikouwem, were the outstanding performers of the afternoon. Such was the left-back's dominance that Rangers were forced to substitute goal-scorer Daniel Etor when he was made to disappear after scoring early from a free kick. His replacement, Onoriode Odah, fared no better against Ikouwem.

But it was captain Mfon who really stole the show, grazing the upright, forcing multiple saves from Rangers goalkeeper Akpan Bassey, then setting up one goal from a superb corner kick delivery to draw the home side level, before showing happy feet to squeeze home the winner from a tight angle for a 2-1 win.

Udoh was booked for taking off his shirt in celebration, and he explained why, "I had told all the Rangers defenders before the game, including the goalkeeper, that I would score against them, and if I failed, I would give each of them N10 000 each. That's why I was so excited."

5. Enyimba Rangers disappointment

Mfon Udoh's goal was a worthy winner from a tight and very enjoyable game of football. And it was very much a letdown to see how many fans turned up (or did not turn up) to watch.

Rangers are not only defending champions, but also one of two sides who hold the record of the most wins of the Nigerian league title. The other side with the record? Enyimba.

There are also other back stories behind this fixture. Rangers are the leading team of Nigeria's south east, one to which almost every person from the region gravitated towards especially between the 1970s and up to the late 1990s.

That position was taken up by Enyimba, who announced their intent to dislodge Rangers from the slit when they prised Emeka Nwanna away from their traditional seniors with the first million naira fee in the history of Nigerian football. Rangers have neither forgotten nor forgiven that bit of usurpation, which is what made last season's equalling of Enyimba's seven wins even sweeter, after Enyimba had equalled, then passed Rangers' six titles.

So to have barely 2000 people turn up for such a game, in a 15000-capacity stadium, was a huge huge disappointment. And strongly reflects the need for Enyimba to finish renovation work at their own stadium and return their as soon as possible.

This is a game that would have attracted at least 30,000 if it had been played in Aba.

Colin Udoh is a Nigeria football correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ColinUdoh.

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