By Tony Ademodi and Alhassan Mohammed Kutigi
Plateau United again failed to rattle Rivers United at the top of the 2021/22 Nigeria Premier Football League, which entered Week 26 on Saturday with three games in as many centres.
Desperate to survive the drop, Dakkada United improved their survival chances by handling their title-chasing visitors from Jos a lone goal defeat at the Nest of Champions in Uyo. That result lifted the second elite division side owned by Akwa Ibom State Government three steps further up the drop zone.
It was the first win for Coach Umar Danlami’s side after back-to-back defeats on the road. Characterised by limited opportunities, fierce battle in the middle of the park and breathtaking defending, the home side piled the pressure on the opposing defence line within the first 10 minutes.
Inemesit Sunday had a clear chance at goal but his shot was slightly off target, while Ekerette Udom missed a free header which should have put the home side in front.
Ekerette, who joined from second-tier side Vandrezzer in mid-season, redeemed himself in the second half, sealing the game for the home side with a header, 16 minutes into the restart.
The visitors had a chance to get a goal in the encounter as Peter Eneji had his curler punched away by goalkeeper Thomas Omokhudu, with that being the only clear chance they had in the game.
Plateau United handler, Fidelis Illechukwu commended his players after the game saying both sides put in their best.
“We played well and lost but we’ll look at the areas we need to work on and make corrections,” he said.
He expressed optimism with his side’s chances despite the result and promising that the Tin City side, who are four points off log leaders Rivers United, would give a strong fight all the way to the end of the campaign.
For Coach Umar Danlami, whose side are currently 14th on the log after 26 games, the visitors stretched his team, but he praised his lads for being resolute.
“It was a tough game and as expected, Plateau United is a good team to reckon with in the league and their position on the log confirms that. I’m happy my boys went through it victorious”, he said.
With the emphatic win by Enyimba at their Enyimba Stadium in Aba on Saturday, the gap between Rivers United and Plateau United could further be widened depending on the outcome of the fixture involving the former and Kwara United in Ilorin on Sunday.
Enyimba produced another spectacular performance – a convincing 3-0 win over Gombe United – to liven their fans who had endured indifferent outings in the season.
The People’s Elephant, twice African champions, started the game lively from the third minute, as Sadiq Abubakar’s pass found Victor Mbaoma close to the box. But the top striker’s effort was saved by Gombe keeper Kazeem Yekini.
Enyimba scored their first goal in the three minutes later when Yakubu Bilal found Obioma Chukwuemeka close to the opponents’ penalty area and the striker slotted home calmly.
Gombe responded. In the 11th minute, Somiala Bello had his cross from the right flank shot off the bar by Yusuf Abdulazeez.
Mbaoma scored the second goal of the day in the 16th minute, after a fine interchange of passes between him and his strike partner, Emeka Obioma. It was his 11th goal of the season.
Samuel Oyediji came close to getting a goal for Gombe United but his shot went inches wide in the 20th minute.
Enyimba’s third goal arrived in the 29th minute after Cyril Olisema benefited from a fine pass from Samuel Kalu and slotted past the Gombe keeper.
Gombe United substitute Christian Innocent came close in the 68th minute, but his effort went wide, while Ahmed Jimoh’s shot went over the bar from a good position in the 78th minute.
Next, Enyimba will be guests to Akwa United FC, while Gombe United will host Sunshine Stars.
Speaking to www.nfpl.ng Enyimba coach Finidi George said his team played well especially in the first half. “We had a good game today against Gombe United, especially in the first 45 minutes as we scored early goals before 30 minutes. It’s still work in progress as we seek to finish the season on a high note.”
His counterpart, Aliyu Zubiaru blamed the defeat on his players on loss of concentration. “We lost to a better Enyimba team, as we couldn’t take the game to Enyimba, and conceded early goals which made it difficult to come back. But we will make amends in our next game at home”.
In Kaduna, which Niger Tornadoes have now made a home, second half outstanding performance pulled the Ikon Allah Boys from the jaws of defeat to earn a crucial win over troubled Kano Pillars, which kept the former at No 12 until the outcome of Nasarawa United’s match away to Lobi Stars on Sunday, courtesy of goals by Jonas Emmanuel and Musa Wakili.
As anticipated, the encounter started on a very sound footing by both teams, but the visitors drew the first blood going ahead in the fifth minute. Ifeanyi Okoye’s reckless charge was spotted and a foul awarded to the visitors, meters away from the box. NPFL veteran, Rabiu Ali picked up the ball, placed it in a good position and sent a curling shot into the net, leaving Lucky Abdullahi bewildered as the entire stadium watched in absolute amusement.
Tornadoes were forced to make an early change as Abdullahi looked demoralised and jittery since conceding the goal. George Michael replaced him on the 15th minute.
The hosts took control of the game and dominated proceeding but with no cutting edge, forcing the technical bench to make double substitutions as Munir Idris and Mas’ud Danjuma were introduced.
Tornadoes continued from where they left off at half time, as they resumed with similar urge in a bid to find the leveler. The pressure paid off 52 minute on the clock when Emmanuel benefited from Idris’ pass off a good team play to restore parity. It was Emmanuel’s fifth goal of the season, second since joining the Ikon Allah Boys.
In the last minute of regulation time, Munir was set free on goal, in a one-on-one situation with the Bassey Akpan, in goal for the visitors. But in an attempt to pull a save, the goalkeeper fouled speeding Munir inside the box and the referee was left with no choice than to point to the spot kick. Musa Wakili converted from the spot in a dramatic fashion to send the entire stadium into raptures.
Five home matches, five wins. Kaduna is turning into a fortress for Tornadoes!
Sunday’s games: Katsina United v Akwa United, Kwara United v Rivers United, MFM v Rangers, Heartland v Abia Warriors, Remo Stars v Wikki Tourists, Sunshine Stars v Shooting Stars, Lobi Stars v Nasarawa United (all 4 pm)
Saturday’s results: Dakkada FC 1-0 Plateau United, Enyimba 3-0 Gombe United, Niger Tornadoes 2-1 Kano Pillars
Additional reports by LMC Media