BY SAMMY WEJINYA.
frittered a plethora of chances in Sunday’s 0-1 loss to FC Ifeanyiubah (FCIU)
in Nnewi as the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) entered Match Day
Drissa Bamba got his first start of the season as the United Technical Manager, Stanley Eguma elected to throw the flamboyant goalkeeper into the deep end against his former club at his old stomping ground.
Zoumana Doumbia, Ishaq Rafiu, Michael Gopey and Chigozie Ihunda completed five changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Heartland in Port Harcourt on November 10 as Abiodun Akande, Malachi Ohawume, Michael Enaruna, Lookman Binuyor and Kunle Odunlami all made way for the season’s debutant starters.
The wholesale changes seemed to affect the usual fluidity of the ‘Pride of Rivers’ as the hosts quickly took the initiative.
Chibuike Eze dazzled his way into the United box in the second minute but his feeble shot was stopped effortlessly by Bamba before the visitors stormed down the other end and almost took the lead.
Cletus Emotan’s expertly-delivered corner a minute later was met by a well-placed header by Michael Gopey but the FCIU goalkeeper, Sharp Uzoigwe displayed sharp reflexes to tip the goal-bound effort away for a corner.
Then came a moment of horror for the visitors.
Chigozie Chilekwu made the most of a lapse in concentration by United and smacked home Jimoh Gbadamosi’s visionary pass with frightening force into the bottom corner in the seventh minute.
That represented the end of the scoring of a rip-roaring contest that could have easily produced no less than half a dozen goals.
United improved marginally after the early set back with the trio of Gopey, Ishaq and Ossy Martins all causing problems for the FCIU backline for the rest of the half.
The next clear-cut goal scoring opportunity however fell to the home side and it would have been a carbon copy of the opening goal had Sabastian Uche displayed a little bit more composure to his powerful strike, off an enthralling team move, on the half hour.
United almost equalized three minutes before the interval but desperate goal line clearances remarkably denied Martins, Ishaq and Shuji Oshobe within seconds of each other.
The thinking among some, that the FCIU goal was living a charmed life, was ruthlessly underlined in a second half dominated by the visitors.
Five minutes after the restart, United shockingly failed to take the lead after Gopey astonishingly missed an open goal from six yards following a mix up in the FCIU defence between Chilekwu and Uzoigwe.
Martins had a great chance to draw United level when he found himself unmarked at the edge of the area but curled his right-footed effort just wide.
The alarm bells were and truly tolling at this point as United sensing that their hosts were on the ropes, honed in for the kill.
Three minutes after Martins missed the gilt-edged opportunity to level matters, United won a free kick, 25 yards out.
Ishaq took the set piece it well enough and but it deflected off the head of Charles Okafor and against the cross bar.
It was the closest the fast-improving United had come to getting on the board but they did not flag with newly-introduced substitutes, Nelson Esor and Bright Onyedikachi making inroads and finding plenty of joy down the wings.
The hosts had by this stage, been pinned deep into their half as they defended for their lives but a rare raid upfront, on the break, almost caught United napping.
Sabastian connected well-enough with Ekene Awaziem’s devilish delivery and with Bamba in no Man’s land, the effort crept agonizingly wide as the sparse horde of travelling support heaved a collective sigh of relief.
Then came the turning point of the game, in the 65th minute, when Onyedikachi missed a gaping goal from close range with Uzoigwe badly misplaced following good work by Emotan on the far side.
Even though United dominated the rest of the half and created several more dangerous moments, Onyedikachi’s miss seemed to knock the stuffing out of a United side that have still yet to score from open play after three attempts this term.
“My players need to be clinical upfront. It is disturbing that we are dominating matches but not scoring goals,” Eguma told the club’s official website, www.riversunitedfc.com.ng.
Head coach of FCIU, Uche Okagbue also shared his post-match sentiments.
“It was a good match and we thank God,” he said.
United currently occupy 15th position in the NPFL standings with two points from three games while FCIU are in third place with seven points from a possible nine.
Next up for the Pride of Rivers is the onerous task of stopping Enugu Rangers in Port Harcourt on Wednesday, November 20 as the competition enters Match Day Four.