Akwa United climbed to fourth in the NPFL standings after beating Enyimba 2-1 in a matchday 20 rescheduled game at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium on Wednesday.
Goals from Michael Ibe and Denis Nya gave the home team a 2-0 lead but with a quarter of an hour left to play, Nigeria U20 international, Wasiu Alalade, pulled one back.
After defeating Go Round FC 1-0 in their last league outing, Abdu Maikaba kept in place seven of the starting XI, with Michael Ibe playing behind Ifeanyi Ede while Paul Obata and Aniekeme Asuquo maintained their roles as wide men. Olorunleke Ojo returned in goal after being left out for weeks, Etim Matthew came in for Otobong Effiong, young midfielder Ubong Essien was handed his league debut, Denis Nya took Godspower Igudia’s place.
Maikaba’s opposite number, Paul Aigbogun, interestingly, replaced seven players who started in the win over Niger Tornadoes, with Ifeanyi Anaemena dropping to the bench, and the coach preferring Uche John and Ernest Governor in the heart of defence.
The home team dominated the early minutes and nearly took the lead as early as the fourth minute, when Paul Obata won a freekick just outside the Enyimba penalty area. Theophilus Afelokhai did well to punch clear the winger’s well-hit effort.
Few seconds after the quarter-hour mark, a delightful Akwa move saw Gabriel Wassa sprint past his marker before cutting back for Ibe to slot in. The goal came with some controversy, as referee Olawale Fawole overlooked two separate incidents in the build-up. Enyimba protested but the goal stood.
Joseph Osadiaye, still enraged by the referee’s decision, lost his cool and was consequently booked. His team-mate, Andrew Abalaogu was lucky not to be sent off after his high boot caught Asuquo in the face.
Maxwell Effiom should have scored when presented with a chance from 12 yards. Ojo was tempted by Osadiaye’s cross. Once the Akwa keeper committed, he had to reach the ball but could only punch into the path of the Enyimba forward, who could only volley wide of an unguarded goal.
Five minutes before the break, Akwa had the ball in the net. Essien rounded Afelokhai to score after Asuquo’s freekick was deflected behind the wall. The goal, though, was rightly chalked off for offside.
And just before the break, there was time for another controversy — this time, the hosts were the ones having cause to complain. Ede latched onto Nya’s long ball and was having a bearing on goal, only to be halted by the referee’s whistle. Just as the Nigeria international looked set to threaten Afelokhai, Fawole called for medical attention for Akwa’s Kelly Kester — who was at the receiving end of a rash tackle — instead of waving play on. The decision, surely, did not go down well with the home fans.
Enyimba showed some improvement in the early stages of the second half, and it looked like they were going to find an equaliser. Osadiaye failed to connect with a delightful cross and then saw his brilliant freekick pushed behind for a corner.
Substitute Victor Mbaoma couldn’t keep his header on target after meeting Asuquo’s cross. The next Akwa header, though, went in. Afelokhai denied Barnabas Imenger, who volleyed off Wassa’s pass, but Nya rose above a sea of players to nod home the resultant corner to score his third league goal of the season and double Akwa’s lead.
The home side then embarked on a passing spree, apparently to entertain their faithful who, for weeks, had been demanding for the free-flowing style adopted by the team in the early stages of the season.
Barely four minutes later, though, they could not keep up the momentum, allowing Enyimba claim the ball and Andrew Abalaogu sent in a pass across the face of goal after swapping a nifty one-two with Chinonso Okonkwo for the onrushing Alalade to tap in •