Amaechi Orji came off the bench to score a hat-trick and fire Akwa United to a 5-1 win over Shooting Stars in an Aiteo Round of 16 match on Wednesday.
Although Akwa were without four of their key first-team players who started Sunday’s league match against Kano Pillars, they looked dangerous all evening.
Hassan Babangida continued his brilliant form in the competition, providing the opener on seven minutes as his effort was deflected in.
And seven minutes later, Christian Pyagbara should have made it 2-0. The forward did well to turn away from his marker inside the guests box after being picked out by Babangida, but fired wide of the post from close range.
On the quarter-hour mark, Fatai Amoo’s men were level, thanks to Abu Azeez who volleyed in a cornerkick. The goal came with some controversy, as Chigozie Chilekwu should have been awarded a freekick in the build-up.
Moments later, goalscorer Babangida’s evening was over -the forward was replaced by Orji after limping off with a suspected ankle injury.
The visitors – who made two changes to their squad, with Shittu Taiwo and Junior Merinini dropping to the bench – had two good SciFi chances before the break, with Najeem Olukokun shrugging off the challenge of Christopher Lolo but fired wide of the far post and the upright denying Azeez.
Orji seized his rare appearance to endear himself to the Akwa faithful. The diminutive player curled a freekick beyond the wall and Charles Tambe in the Shooting goal to restore his side’s lead, fired into the bottom-right corner from range for his second, and then profited from a mix-up between Tambe and Sodiq Suraq, firing home from outside the box to complete his hat-trick.
And Pyagbara put the game beyond the visitors in second-half stoppage time after combining well with substitute Michael Ibeh to secure Akwa a place in the quarter-finals.
About 15 minutes before Pyagbara’s goal, the post denied Cyril Olisemah and Fatai Amoo’s side did well to block follow-up shots from Chilekwu and Orji.
Akwa missed out on a top-three finish in the league and blew away their hopes of a second chance of playing continental football, but their performance on Wednesday would suggest that a triumph in the Aiteo Cup – which would hand them a CAF Confederation Cup place – is within reach.