NPFL 21: Akwa United Beat Enyimba To Keep Title Winning Hopes Alive
Charles Atshimene scored a late penalty to give Akwa United a crucial 1-0 win over Enyimba FC, opened a five-point lead at the top, and took a huge step towards the league title.
The Nigeria Professional Football League matchday 32 fixture was played at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo. After matchday 31, the Promise Keepers maintained their top position but just two points kept them away from the impressive Kano Pillars and high-scoring Nasarawa United.
The first leg encounter, a matchday 12 fixture played in Aba ended 1-1. Defended, David Philip scored in the 94th minute to rescue a point for Akwa United after a spirited performance by the visitors. Enyimba got into today’s fixture to avenge that result.
It was a tense game and it was confirmed in the 12th minute when Marshall Johnson was pushed down and could not continue after receiving medical attention. He was replaced by Dare Ojo.
Moments later, Ikechukwu Nwani won an aerial ball and sets it up for Sampson Gbadebo whose low drive narrowly miss the target. Great attempt! Enyimba responded. Anayo Iwuala went down after being challenged by Olisa Ndah. Free kick to Enyimba. The effort couldn’t beat the wall, Samuel Amadi cleared it out to safety.
The first half ended goalless. In the second half, both sides went at each other but couldn’t find the goal. Akwa United created a chance in the 64th minute but didn’t take it. Gbadebo sent a long ball forward, Atshimene controlled it so well and set it up for Ubong Friday whose strike went across the face of the goal and goes wide. Enyimba initiated a fine move that ended with Iwuala releasing a shot but it was deflected into the side of the net.
In the 86th minute, Mfon Udoh had a good drive into the box and was brought down. Penalty to Akwa United! Atshimene stepped up to the spot and scored to give coach Kennedy Boboye’s team their 16th win of the season. It was also a record-breaking performance since 2013 (LMC era) for goalkeeper Adewale Adeyinka who recorded his 16th clean sheet of the season. Adeyinka broke Suraj Ayeleso’s record of 15 clean sheets for Nasarawa United in the 2016/2017 season. The Promise Keepers also consolidated their top position with 60 points while Enyimba will stay on 52 points.
Kano Pillars, Nasarawa United Setback
Before matchday 32 action, Kano Pillars and Nasarawa United, two major contenders for the top position with Akwa United, failed to close the gap. Both teams were hoping to continue their fine form from matchday 3-1. Pillars thrashed Lobi Stars 3-0 while Nasarawa United beat Jigawa Golden Stars 3-1.
In Akure, Kano Pillars went against a rejuvenated Sunshine Stars team. Beating Heartland FC 0-1 in Owerri in their last match, the Owena Whales, fighting to avoid the drop were ready to take the heat to Sai Masu Gida.
Coach Deji Ayeni retained the same team that stunned Heartland to secure a second away win this season and the team delivered. Babatunde Bello came close to open the scoring for the hosts in the 29th minute but Pillars goalkeeper stopped him. Ifegwu Ojukwu’s effort in the 40th minute was also stopped. The first half ended goalless.
When play resumed, Sunshine Stars kept knocking on the door of the visitors till they opened. In the 59th minute, the reliable Sadeeq Yusuf scored the only goal of the match to secure an important victory. It is Yusuf’s 12th goal of the season, the team’s 9th win of the campaign, and good enough to lift them off the relegation zone. The result dropped Kano Pillars to 4th on the log.
In Nnewi, FC Ifeanyi Ubah, also battling relegation, laboured to a 2-1 victory over Nasarawa United. The Anambra Warriors fell 3-0 to Katsina United in their last match, losing to the Solid Miners would have been disastrous to their league campaign.
The hosts played with intent and in the 29th minute took the lead through Nonso Nzediegwu’s goal. The visitors, playing with the top spot position agenda needed just 2 minutes to respond through Chigozie Obasi. The defender fired in a free-kick from 40 yards, his 4th goal of the season. 1-1. Game on!
It was a tight encounter with both sides in a desperate search for victory. The Solid Miners were reduced to ten men after Sadiq Abdurazaq received a second yellow card for a foul. The hosts capitalised on the man advantage and in the 70th minute, Uzochukwu Ifejiofor delivered the win for the Anambra Warriors to seal just their 8th victory of the season, they improved to 34 points but still rooted in the relegation zone. Nasarawa United retained the second position but now tied on 55 points with Rivers United and Kano Pillars.
Back To Winning Ways
At the Okigwe Township Stadium, after losing five consecutive matches, Abia Warriors returned to winning ways with a dramatic 2-1 victory over Kwara United. The Warriors have been struggling and had to dig deep to secure a win over a determined team from Ilorin.
With just five minutes into the encounter, Jide Fatokun stunned the hosts with a goal. It was a screamer! Early lead for the visitors and more worry for coach Imama Amapakabo. The visitors took the lead into the break.
In the second half, the Warriors deployed all they had in search of a goal and they found it in the 66th minute through Paul Samson. It was his 7th goal of the season. From the 80th minute, the match became a tale of Obioma Chukwuemeka.
In the 83rd minute, Chukwuemeka scored but the goal was disallowed. The home spectators couldn’t take it, they felt cheated. The deliberations on the canceled goal halted play for some time. When play resumed, Chukwuemeka took things personal.
He capitalised on a defensive error to shoot the hosts into the lead and the eventual winner. With the hard-fought victory, Abia Warriors, climbed to the 14 position with 38points while the Harmony Boys dropped to the 7th position on 52points. Up next for the Warriors will be Wikki Tourist of Bauchi in Bauchi.
At the Cathedral in Enugu, Rangers International Football Club also returned to winning ways with a 2-1 victory over Wikki Tourists of Bauchi. The Flying Antelopes suffered a 2-0 defeat at Kwara United in their last match and another defeat would have dented their league ambitions. The game against Wikki Tourists was a good test on their character and consistency and they passed it.
An early goal by Godspower Anifiok got the hosts rolling. They sustained the momentum and moments later, Ugochukwu Ugwoke doubled the lead. An own-goal scored by Ernest Governor was the only consolation the visitors took back home. Another win for the Flying Antelopes, their 15th this season, they have gathered 52 points and 7th on the log.
Rivers United also got back to winning ways with a 2-1 victory over struggling Warri Wolves. The last result for the Pride of Rivers was a 1-1 draw with Enyimba in Aba and the matchday 32 objective was to consolidate on that result.
But it was the visitors who had the first laugh when Emmanuel Ihezuo gave them the lead. Rivers United responded through Godwin Aguda in the 23rd minute. Aguda completed his brace in the 60th minute to secure victory for coach Stanley Eguma’s team who are now 3rd on the log with 55 points.
In Makurdi, Nnamdi Mejuobi’s first-half goal gave Lobi Stars a 1-0 win over Adamawa United, Jigawa Golden Stars beat Plateau United 1-0 while the game between MFM FC and Katsina United in Lagos ended goalless.
On Saturday, Dakkada FC defeated Heartland FC 1-0 to record their 14th win of the season and moved to 9th on the league table. Matchday 32 recorded 17 goals, 9 wins and a draw.
NIGERIA PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
Matchday 32 Results
Akwa United 1 Enyimba FC 0
Sunshine Stars 1 Kano Pillars 0
FC Ifeanyi Ubah 2 Nasarawa United 1
Abia Warriors 2 Kwara United 1
Rangers Int’l FC 2 Wikki Tourists 1
Rivers United 2 Warri Wolves 1
Lobi Stars 1 Adamawa United 0
Jigawa Golden Stars 1 Plateau United 0
MFM FC 0 Katsina United 0
Dakkada FC 1 Heartland FC 0