BY SAMMY WEJINYA
Ossy Martins struck early as an impressive Rivers United side snapped ‘People’s Elephant’, Enyimba’s 12-match unbeaten run in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) on Wednesday with a richly deserved 1-0 victory.
United could have won more handsomely but for some impressive goalkeeping heroics by the Enyimba goalkeeper, Theophilus Afelokhai who produced a stunning double save late on to keep the score respectable.
The win at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium, Port Harcourt keeps United in the hunt for a playoff ticket as they now sit just two points behind the third placed MFM FC who have amassed 28 points from 18 matches.
Enyimba started Wednesday’s contest on the front football and should have opened the scoring in the second minute when an unmarked Chinedu Udechukwu rose highest to head Stanley Dimgba’s cross narrowly wide.
It was a premonition the hosts failed to heed as the irrepressible visitors, seemingly buoyed by their assured start to the contest, continued to step on the accelerator.
Former national U20 star, Simon Zenke was the next to ask an attacking question, from an Enyimba perspective as his fierce strike off a defence-splitting Chinedu Udeagha pass skimmed across the face of the United goal with goalkeeper, Abiodun Akande well-beaten.
The hosts then took over, creating the better chances for the rest of the half.
It was therefore no real surprise when they took the lead on 12 minutes through Ossy Martins’ simple tap in, following good work, off a thrilling team move, by Wasiu Jimoh and Malachi Ohawume.
Wasiu, Martins and Kehinde Adedipe all had gilt-edged opportunities to score before the game hit the may way stage as the ‘Pride off Rivers’ looked to rapidly put the game to bed.
United continued to boss proceedings and enjoyed two more excellent opportunities on the stroke of half time through Martins and Adedipe as they looked to put daylight between themselves and the visitors.
Enyimba improved after the break and enjoyed fleeting moments of joy.
Their best chances at restoring parity against a badly flagging United side arrived 14 minutes from time when Udechukwu produced two great efforts in about a minute – the first from a freekick and another with a great turn – but the United rear guard stood resolute.
Moments earlier, Akande saved Faourk Mohammed’s free kick brilliantly as the visitors desperately looked to preserve their unbeaten run which was, at that stage, hanging by a thread.
The introduction of pint-sized Esor Nelson, in the second half breathed new life into the United side that finished the game on the ascendancy.
Only an extraordinary double save by Afelokhai in the 85th minute prevented Nelson and Martins from adding to United’s advantage.
Afelokhai was again, in outstanding form to deny the nifty Nelson whose pinging effort from a tight angle, late on, seemed destined for the far corner.
It was a richly deserved win for the hosts who can now afford to dream of a place in the playoff places.
Head coach of Enyimba, Usman Abdalah was quick to offer words of praise to United as he saw his side’s long standing winning run come to a shuddering half.
“Rivers United gave a very good account of themselves and they deserved to win,” Abdallah said.
United’s technical manager, Stanley Eguma also voiced his sentiments as he spoke to the club’s official website, www.riversunitedfc.com.ng.
“There is improvement in our team as we have been playing some great football recently. We played better than Enyimba today and we will continue working harder,” he said.
Rivers United now sit in fourth place on the NPFL standings with 26 points from 18 matches.
The Port Harcourt club will now embark on a length trip to Illorin where they will face Kwara United on Sunday.