BY SAMMY WEJINYA.
Rivers United produced their most dominant league performance in over four seasons on Sunday in a one-sided 2-0 victory over Adamawa United in Gombe.
Junior Osaghae and Malachi Ohawume were the goalscoring contributors for the Port Harcourt club, either side of half time.
The big news before kickoff was that former Super Eagles centre half, Azubuike Egwuekwe would be making his first start of the season while mainstays, Kunle Odunlami and captain, Festus Austine would miss out on the game.
The absence of the two regulars, Austine and Oduami did not weaken the side and if anything, galvanized the troops into producing the most dominant league performance ever witnessed in recent memory.
United could have racked up double figures in the contest and it would not have flattered them – such was the level of dominance displayed by the ‘Pride of Rivers’ at the Pantami Stadium.
United started in brisk fashion with Ishaq Rafiu leaving his marker for dead in the second minute before seeing his goal-bound shot blocked.
A minute later, Rivers United came close again with visionary midfielder, Esor Nelson just failing to reach the lively Ishaq’s teasing cross.
The ‘Pride of Rivers’ continued to play on the front foot and almost took the lead in the fifth minute when a devastating counter attack that involved three players, goalkeeper, Darlington Ovunda, midfielder, Bakary Bamba and forward, Stephen Gopey culminated in the attacker firing agonisingly wide from close range.
The pattern of missing a plethora of chances continued in the seventh minute when Amos James produced a stunning goal line clearance to deny Gopey whose exquisitely-taken half volley seemed destined for the bottom corner.
Three minutes later, Ishaq almost scored an extraordinary goal, straight from a corner but the shell-shocked Bulus Pwadadi in the Adamawa United goal scrambled to make an important stop, pushing the ball away for a corner.
In the 13th minute, Bakary Bamba should have opened the scoring for the visitors had he kept his effort low when he carved out space on the near side and after driving forward with menace.
The hosts were struggling to put passes together and barely stepped out of their half as they concentrated instead on stopping wave after wave of Rivers United attacks.
In the 21st minute, Adamawa United finally created their first goal scoring opportunity in the shape of Idris Abubakar’s tame effort from the edge of the box which Ovunda stooped with minimal fuss.
Almost immediately, the regular pattern of the game resumed with Rivers United creating dangerous moments, almost at will.
Junior Osaghae missed two excellent opportunities in the 23rd and 24th minutes respectively but he wasnt to be denied for much longer.
In the 25th minute, the midfielder displayed great movement off the ball to meet Gopey’s inch perfect delivery with a stunning header which hit the back of the net before Pwadadi could move a muscle.
The goal was the least their dominance deserved but to their credit, Rivers United did not rest on their laurels and nearly got a second goal two minutes later as Gopey saw a fierce effort spectacularly kept out by the overworked Bulus.
Poor decision making by Esor Nelson denied Gopey a chance to double Rivers United’s advantage on the half hour as Esor choose to shoot from an impossible angle rather than square to the unmarked attacker.
The dominance of the visitors was near total with Osaghae managing to miss two more gilt-edged opportunities before the half was over.
One of the chances was a header from three yards with a gaping goal at his mercy after Bulus had already been displaced following Ishaq’s expertly taken corner.
Football is replete with stories ‘games of two halves’ and if the home faithful expected the hosts to turn the tide in the second half, they were to be badly disappointed.
Rivers United continued from where they stopped after the interval, coming close to adding to the score on three occasions before the game had reached the 50-minute mark.
Odaghae headed Bakary Bamba’s cross wide on 47 minutes before remarkably placing a free header wide from point blank range, this time off an Ishaq cross.
Defensive midfielder, Victor Chidume drove forward in the 49th minute before delivering a stunning no look pass to Esor who fired wide from close range.
It was a remarkable passage of events as the home fans watched, stunned, while the visitors continued to dominate in resounding fashion.
On 54 minutes, the hosts had a rare attacking moment of promise but the impressive Egwuekwe reacted well to prevent Idris Abubakar from plundering what would have represented a barely-deserved equalizer.
Just before the hour, the marauding visitors came extremely close to doubling their money again but Esor, who was fed in exhilarating fashion by Osaghae, saw a brilliant goal-bound effort deflected for a corner.
From the ensuing corner, Esor almost scored but a last ditch bit of heroic defending saw the hosts clear for another corner.
Adamawa United were reeling but Rivers United would not take their foot off the gas.
Peter Ubakanma, who was having a barnstorming evening at right back, overlapped impressively to meet a Cletus Emotan cross which was disappointly headed straight at Bulus from six yards in the 66th minute.
Two minutes earlier, Rivers United had missed their best chance of the half when Gopey arrived in the six yard box with Bulus displaced.
He pulled the trigger firmly enough and the away bench had erupted in what turned out to be premature celebrations as Lukman Surajo arrived from nowhere to make a goal saving clearance.
It was a remarkable incident in the game and Surajo understandably celebrated like he’d netted the winner.
‘The Pride Of Rivers’ however refused to despair, their belief hinged on the knowledge that they were the vastly superior side and that their overall quality would carry them safely over the line.
Ubakanma raced forward again in the 72nd minute, taking matters into his own hands with a fizzing effort which flew inches wide of Bulus’ right hand post from 25 yards out.
Rivers United were however almost punished in the 77th minute as Bobby Abel struck with poise and precision from 12 yards only to see his drive deflected for a corner by Bamba who just about arrived the scene at the opportune moment.
The hosts seemed to have stirred from hibernation following that incident and should have levelled matters in the 79th minute.
Idris Abubakar outsmarted the visitors’ rear guard, came face to face with Ovunda but somehow placed his effort over.
Two minutes later, the ball was on the other end of the pitch as Ubakanma saw his freekick just about fly over.
Gopey shot into the side netting in the 83rd minute after turning a defender inside out before substitute, Malachi Ohawume got denied by the offside flag.
Ohawume was to have his moment of joy, three minutes from time as he stabbed into an unguarded net from close range after seeing an initial effort come off the post.
“The players put up a good effort and we want to amass points that will take us to the top of the table,” technical manager of Rivers United, Stanley Eguma told the club’s official website, www.riversunitedfc.com after the game.
United will next face MFM FC in Port Harcourt on January 5 in their first game of 2020.
The Port Harcourt club have now moved into the continental places as they are now level on points with second-placed Lobi Stars on the log having amassed 18 points from 11 matches.