Emeka Ogbugh’s quick response to Akwa United’s Musa Newman 11th minute opener saved Rivers United from second home defeat this season in a rescheduled Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) game at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium, Port Harcourt on Wednesday.
Rivers United started on the back foot after Musa Newman had put Akwa in front early on, bundling home after the Rivers United defenders failed to effectively clear a Chigozie Chilekwu throw in on the near side.
That goal by Akwa United in the 11th minute was against the run of play as Rivers United had dominated up to that point and probably could have taken the lead had Guy Kuemian been more clinical with a goal scoring opening in the eighth minute.
Stung into action, Rivers United pressed up the pitch and were level almost immediately as Ogbugh headed home off the cross bar following an expertly-taken free kick by the impressive Ali.
The two sides continued to play expansive football as they sought to take the initiative but it was the visitors that carved the next big opening to retake the lead.
A penalty was awarded to them after the referee adjudged that the lively Newman has been upended in the Rivers United box in the 20th minute.
‘Kanu Nwankwo-esque’ forward Alhassan Ibrahim stepped up to take the spot kick but the experienced Sunday Rotimi won the battle of wits, guessing right and standing his ground to deny the languid attacker who attempted to hoodwink the veteran by striking the ball right down the middle of the goal.
It was a first half for the ages as both sides continued to have a go with intent but there was to be no further scoring despite excellent openings created.
Kuemian’s nimble feet created an opening for Lukman Mohammed in the 35th minute but the Rivers United striker panicked and skied his effort into orbit from six yards after doing the hard part of swivelling on a six pence in a crowded penalty area.
Akwa however had the best opportunity to go into the break in front when the irrepressible Newman came face to face with Rotimi.
He however dragged his effort agonizingly wide after beating the goal keeper from a tight angle.
On the stroke of half time, Esosa Igbinoba fired a low shot from close range marginally off target with some of the home fans already celebrating what they thought was a certain goal.
The second half was never going to match the first in terms of intensity, quality and drama but the two sides still ensured the standard didn’t drop too drastically.
Christian Pyagbara fired a tame effort straight at Rotimi from the edge of the box in the 63rd minute while Yusuf Jaiyeola shot wide on two occasions from range either side of the Akwa United striker’s effort.
Ali continued to prove his worth as a left back in form by almost scoring straight from a corner in the 76th minute with Ogbugh also trying his luck from range, eight minutes later as the home side stepped on the accelerator in search of maximum points.
Akwa could have won it late on but Ibrahim shot inches wide from inside the Rivers United box with Rotimi completely beaten by the low strike.
It was a hugely entertaining match but the outcome left both sides pondering what might have been with maximum points clearly the target by either group.
Our official website, www.riversunitedfc.com.ng attended the post-match press conference attended by the assistant coaches (Willy Udube of Rivers United and Aliyu Zubairu of Akwa United) of the two sides (audio files have been attached).
Akwa United remain in third place on the NPFL standings with 51 points from 31 matches while Rivers United moved up one place to 12th on the log with 41 points from 30 matches.