By Sammy Wejinya
It was a clash of two continental glory seeking sides, but it was Esosa Igbinoba’s early strike proved to be the winner in Sunday’s eagerly anticipated Nigeria league clash between big guns, Rivers United and Enugu Rangers in Port Harcourt.
United won 1-0 to edge closer towards the top half of the log. The midfielder, crept in unnoticed, following a quickly-taken corner kick, to slot past the Rangers goal keeper, Itodo Akor as the hosts claimed a slim win at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium.
It was the first attack launched by the hosts and they clung on to that lead until the end to record their first win in the NPFL since January 22.
The build up to the game had fans anticipating a slugfest but in the end, it turned out to be an underwhelming contest lacking in genuine quality for most parts.
Rangers’ first real crack at goal arrived just before half time when Bobby Clement struck his effort from the edge of the box well over the bar.
United were first to threaten upon resumption but Igbinoba missed a glorious chance to complete his brace as he fired a 25-yard free kick straight at Akor after Ovoke was fouled in the 51st minute.
Rangers threatened through a set piece of their own six minutes later with Rotimi needing to produce an impressive block to deny Osas Okoro from a tight angle.
The home side thought they had won a penalty on the hour as they looked to put the game to bed but Guy Kuemian was booked for simulation after the referee ruled that there was no contact before he went to ground in the Rangers box after taking two defenders to the cleaners.
Substitute, Obomate Frederick, making his season’s debut, had a chance to kill off the late charge by Rangers but struck a tame effort straight at Akor.
The Pride of Rivers were almost made to pay for the numerous missed opportunities to kill of the game as a contest when Fortune Omoniwari fired a goal bound free kick from 25 yards.
The effort was flying into the top corner but Rotimi read the danger unerringly and spectacularly pushed the ball over for a corner.
After the game, Enugu Rangers head coach, Imama Amapakabo spoke to the media and blamed a slow start and loss of concentration for his side’s loss to United in the tension-soaked contest.
“We struggled to retain possession in the opposing third (of our opponents) in the first half but corrected that in the second half.
“We got punished for (a lack of concentration) in the first minute of the game and got punished for it,” Amapakabo said in the post-match press conference.
On his part, technical manager of United, Stanley Eguma praised his side for the win.
“A football match is played for 90 minutes and it does not matter when the goal comes.
“What was important was scoring and keeping the (lead) until the end,” he said.
The win was enough to see United move up four places on the log to 12th with 14 points from 10 matches while Rangers slip to 16th with 12 points from 10 matches.
Match Statistics: Rivers United versus Enugu Rangers.
Rivers United : Sunday Rotimi, Markson Ojobo, Doumbia Zoumana, Weli Christian, Emeka Atuloma, Festus Austine, Ayobami Asekunuwo, Bernard Ovoke (Emeka Ogbugh 53′), Lukman Mohammed (Yusuf Jaiyeola 60′), Guy Kuemian and Esosa Igbinoba (Frederick Obomate 82′).
Substitutes not used: Femi Thomas, Gabriel Wassa, Joseph Douhadji and Bolaji Sakin.
Enugu Rangers: Itodo Akor, Osas Okoro, Chidiebere Okolie, Pape Ousmane, Camara Azeez, Obinna Nwobodo, Aguda Godwin, Daniel Etor (Chinedu Udeagha 55′), Chiamaka Madu (Tope Olusesi 70′), Bobby Clement (Fortune Omoniwari 77′) and Charles Henlong.
Substitutes not used: Nana Bonsu, Okey Odita, Christian Madu and Orji Kalu.
Rivers United: Emeka Atuloma (35′), Guy Kuemian (61′) and Markson Ojobo (88′).
Enugu Rangers: Obinna Nwobodo (19′), Charles Henlong (44′) and Godwin Aguda (78′).
Goal(s): Esosa Igbinoba (2′).