Emmanuel Dennis stars in a brilliant Saturday for Nigerian players in the Premier League

Dennis had a goal and an assist; Iwobi had an assist, Etebo and Troost-Ekong were excellent while Ndidi and Iheanacho kicked off with a win.

William Troost-Ekong and Emmanuel Dennis starred as Watford beat Aston Villa on Premier League return  (Instagram/Watford)

The Premier League has been the standout favourites for Nigerian football enthusiasts, but it looked like they were starved of some homegrown attraction to the league for a long time.

That was part of what made the league hugely popular in Nigeria; Kanu Nwankwo converted many Nigerians to Arsenal fans while Austin ‘Jay-Jay’ Okocha got us watching Bolten Wanderers.

But for a long time, it wasn’t like that.

In recent years, however, things have changed. On Saturday, August 14, 2021, one Premier League side Watford had three Nigerian players in a their starting XI.

Has that happened before? I can’t remember, and neither the slew of Nigerian football journalists that I asked.

On their return to the top-flight, Watford had William Troost-Ekong, Emmanuel Dennis and Oghenekaro Etebo in their starting XI for the 3-2 home win over Aston Villa.

Troost-Ekong continued from where he stopped last season and was solid in defence for Watford. Although the defence still conceded two goals, the Nigerian defender was not at fault for any of them.

He led the defence well from the centre and kept Danny Ings and Emiliano Buendia really quiet.

Etebo was huge in the middle, played with great effort and looked like a steal for Watford. He narrowly missed the Match of the Match award to his compatriot Dennis.

On his Premier League debut, Dennis was the star of the show at Vicarage Road in the Saturday game.

He had a lively 66 minutes before he went off after picking up an injury.

He opened the scoring in the 10th minute, making good movement to get space in the box to collect a pass from Ismaila Sarr.

His first attempt was blocked, but he remained calm to slot in the rebound. The 23-year-old grabbed an assist with a simple pass to Sarr, who doubled the Hornets’ lead.

He had three shots on target and made three key passes in the game.

He became the fourth Nigerian player to score in their first Premier League game with his debut goal. John Utaka did it for Portsmouth in August 2007, Osaze Odemwingie did for West Brom in August 2010 and Odion Ighalo did it for Watford in August 2015.

Alex Iwobi started the first Premier League game of the Rafael Benitez stint on the bench, but he made a strong case for himself with his performance when he was brought on.

With the game at 1-1, the Nigerian replaced Andros Townsend on the right side of the attack and impacted the game.

He assisted Abdoulaye Doucoure to get Everton in the lead. He did well to get inside the box to nod the ball back to Doucoure, who smashed his effort into the top right corner from the edge of the box.

In the 81st minute, he had a hand in another Everton goal with a quick one-two with Richarlison before the Brazilian fired a cross into the area where Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored with a good old diving header.

Wilfred Ndidi played 90 minutes as Leicester City kicked off the season with a 1-0 win over Wolves.

Kelechi Iheanacho came on in the second half of the game.

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