Rivers United produced a devastating performance – their best in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) this season –to overpower high-flying Enugu Rangers 3-0 on Thursday.
It was the first time Rangers would lose in the league by more than a single goal margin and much of it was down to a performance that encapsulated verve, energy, finesse, professionalism, passion and deadly efficiency at its apex from the home side.
Rangers actually started the stronger of the two sides and should have taken the lead inside the opening five minutes when some intricate passing opened up the United rearguard which left captain, Godwin Aguda Wanbe face to face with the hosts’ goalkeeper, Abiodun Akande.
The forward struck a goal-bound effort firmly enough but a heroic goal-line clearance by Kunle Odunlami had the collective hearts of the home faithful beating rhythmically again.
United then began to make important inroads as they grew in stature and confidence.
Malachi Ohawume came agonizingly close to opening the scoring for the home side on 14 minutes with a header that flew narrowly wide off a precise Ossy Martins cross.
Wasiu Jimoh also came close to making the net bulge, two minutes later but his effort was far from accurate with a gaping goal at his mercy.
Nine minutes before the interval, United deservedly took the lead through Ohawume who struck with guile and accuracy from a tight angle to set the tone for a brilliant and assured second-half display which was to produce two brilliantly-taken goals.
Jimoh scored the game’s second goal, a well-taken finish from close range following an exhilarating team move that left the visitors’ defence in sixes and sevens.
Nelson Esor netted a sumptuous third which mirrored the second in terms of quality and build up, with a quarter of an hour remaining on the clock as the hosts proceeded to entertain the spectators with some outrageous bit of showboating to run down the clock.
The highlight of such moments arrived in the 87th minute when goalkeeper, Abiodun Akande kept out a Rangers free kick with a stunning flying header in Rene Higuita-esque fashion which had the supporters erupt in a standing ovation.
It was, by far, the best performance of a resurgent United side this season after they were controversially denied a win in their last home fixture against Sunshine Stars.
Technical manager of Rivers United, Stanley Eguma discussed the performance with the club’s official website, www.riversunitedfc.com.ng.
“It was a good game and a good performance against a very strong Rangers side that are top of the league (Group A) standings.
“We studied their games, mapped out the strategy to clip (their wings) in Port Harcourt.
“My players were very focused to get the job done and this result is a very motivating one for the football club,” Eguma said.
Head coach of Rangers, Gbenga Ogunbote also voiced his sentiments on his post-match assessment with assembled media.
“We had a bad day and sometimes, you cannot explain (things like this). We had a couple of chances (through which) we could have taken the lead, but it did not happen,” he explained.
Rivers United have now moved up to fifth in the NPFL standings with 23 points from 16 matches while Rangers remain at the summit of the division with 23 points after navigating the same number of fixtures as their conquerors.