When Jose Poseiro named his 23-man Nigeria squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Lesotho and Zimbabwe, there wasn’t a great deal of surprise on the list of those included.
The head coach has once again leant on some of the Super Eagles that are currently plying their trade in the English Championship, the ever-exciting second tier of football in England behind the Premier League.
And the way things are shaping up, at least three Super Eagles could become embroiled in a promotion battle with their respective clubs…
Loss of Momentum
For so much of the 2023/24 season to date, Leicester City have been leading the way in the English Championship.
They won 13 of their opening 14 league games of the season, with Kelechi Iheanacho on the scoresheet five times and Wilfred Ndidi marshalling the midfield.
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Leicester have been ‘odds on’ for much of the campaign, meaning that the bookmakers believe they stand an excellent chance of winning the Championship and returning to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
However, the Foxes suffered back-to-back defeats in early November, which has shaken up the division and confirmed that the Championship is far from a one-horse race. Leeds United enjoyed a 1-0 victory at the King Power Stadium earlier in November, before Middlesbrough repeated that scoreline a week later to well and truly end Leicester’s momentum.
Whether they can right themselves after the international break remains to be seen, but it has certainly opened the door to others in the Championship – including a pair of Super Eagles stars…
Moving On Up
Whereas Leicester came flying out of the blocks, for Southampton and West Brom it’s been rather steadier progress.
But that pair of former Premier League clubs has since come good – in contrast to Leicester’s weakening fortunes. The Saints have embarked on an eight-game unbeaten run since the end of September, which includes six victories, while the Baggies won three of their four outings prior to the international break in November.
For Joe Aribo, the season so far has been one of personal disappointment. While still in the Nigeria squad for those World Cup qualifiers, the Southampton midfielder has struggled to establish himself in the Saints’ starting eleven; instead making ten appearances from the substitutes’ bench.
However, Southampton boss Russell Martin was full of praise for Aribo’s efforts against high-flying Ipswich Town earlier in the season, so there’s still a chance that he can force his way into the reckoning moving forward.
Semi Ajayi, meanwhile, is the dictionary definition of a defensive rock, with the 30-year-old a key component in West Brom’s 3-1 win over Hull at the start of the month.
There are three promotion places available from the Championship into the Premier League, with Leicester first in the table, Southampton fourth and West Brom seventh at the time of writing. So how many Super Eagles will ascend to the EPL at the end of the season?