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 By Colin Udoh

Plateau United reassert themselves atop the Nigeria Premier League table

MFM striker Stephen Odey.
Stephen Odey, in purple, was joined by Plateau United's Reuben Bala in the Nigeria Premier League's hat trick club.

After just one matchday of staring up at MFM FC, Plateau United returned to the top of the Nigeria Professional Football League table in emphatic style this week, handing ABS FC their heaviest defeat in a 4-1 thrashing.

MFM, who had dislodged Plateau from top spot following a 2-1 home victory over the then-league leaders, put up a horrendously poor performance as they went down 1-0 to Gombe United. The only surprise in that game was that MFM only lost by a single goal.

Here are five takeaways from the weekend's action:

1. Bala hat trick restores Plateau to top of the table

Reuben Bala's hat trick was the shining light of the weekend, helping Plateau United to a 4-1 win and handing ABS their heaviest defeat of the season and restoring Plateau to the top of the table.

A week earlier, the team from Jos had found themselves overtaken by MFM after conceding a late goal to lose 2-1 in Lagos.

But they were determined to return to the top and wasted little time in going ahead when Joshua Obaje sprung the ABS offside trap to finish from close range.

Up to that point, ABS goalkeeper Suleiman Dogo had kept his side in the game with save after desperate save, and it looked like his efforts would count for something when Emmanuel Olowo headed in an own goal to tie the game 1-1.

Bala then took over. First, he tucked away a penalty kick after Chkwuebuka Anaekwe was penalised for a hand ball in the box just four minutes before the break.

Bala was back in the second half to head one home just past the hour mark and completed his hat trick via another penalty kick when he was clobbered in the box.

He joins top scorer Stephen Odey as the only players to have registered a hat trick so far this campaign.

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2. Olorunleke the penalty stopper

Nigeria's top division does is not exactly replete with goalkeepers who are expert at saving penalties.

But there have been a few who have established a reputation for stopping spot kicks, including the late Sam Okoye, Dele Aiyenugba and Sunday Rotimi.

It might have been just one game, but if he keeps this up, Ojo Olorunleke might just put himself in a position to be mentioned alongside those keepers.

The Sunshine Stars' goalkeeper saved two penalties, including one in which he was lucky to still be on the pitch for after clamping onto the feet of Niger Tornadoes' Sadiq Suleiman, who had sprung the Sunshine Stars' offside trap and looked nailed-on to score.

Between Ojo and some kamikaze defending, Sunshine were lucky not to be at least four goals down in the first half.

By the end of the half, Ojo was drawing cheers from the frustrated but appreciative home fans.

With the score tied 1-1, Ojo's saves looked to have earned the Akure side a point, until Tornadoes snatched victory at the death.

There was nothing the keeper could do about the winner, smashed in with venom by Lukas Yahaya from just outside the area on the stroke of 90 minutes to secure a 2-1 win.

3. Throw-ins take center stage

Penalty kicks might be gathering plenty of headlines in the NPFL, but teams do not seem to be taking note of the number of goals being scored, either directly or indirectly, from throw-ins.

This match week saw no less than four goals scored from the touchline.

Plateau United conceded an equaliser when Ibrahim Ahmed's throw in led to all manner of panic in the box, forcing Olowo to head into his own net to make it 1-1. Bala's second, and Plateau's third, goal was headed in from from another long thrown ball.

Over at Lokoja, Ifeanyi Okoye opened the scoring for Niger Tornadoes with a header from Yahaya's throw in. And the winning goal in the match also started from a thrown ball deep into stoppage time.

Gombe United's 1-0 win over MFM was also secured with the help of an assist from a throw in, although in fairness, MFM should have been well and truly routed by more than one goal.

Either way, it looks like teams need to start paying attention to balls from the sidelines.

Enugu Rangers during a league encounter in the NPFL.
The Enugu Rangers have gotten off to a slow start in their title defense, putting manager Imama Amapakabo under fire.

5. Ultimatum season

Most clubs still have three matches to go until the midway point of the league, but ultimatums have started flying around as coaches begin to experience the pressure cooker.

Before the weekend's games, Rangers manager Imama Amapakabo was handed an ultimatum to secure all nine points from the next three games or face the sack.

The title-winning coach lost the first game of the series to leave the champions propping up the log. His future as coach of the Flying Antelopes is now looking anything but bright.

After his side's slim loss to Niger Tornadoes, Sunshine Stars' manager Kayode Olujohungbe received his own ultimatum -- win his next two matches or face the sack. That's hardly the best motivation to gain results.

5. Ifeanyi Ubah secure first away point

After 15 matches played, Ifeanyi Ubah FC, arguably the most expensively-assembled side in the league, finally secured their first away point.

As of match-day 14, the Anambra Warriors were bottom of the away results league table, with seven losses in seven games.

But their 1-1 draw at Akwa United, where they went ahead after three minutes and held on for the next 73, moved them up to 18th, with Wikki Tourists and Gombe United now below them.

Yaw Preko and his lads must consider it as a sign of good things to come going forward.

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

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