Akwa United sort to banish the memories of their CAF Confederation Cup campaign ouster with a thrilling 3-1 win over Heartland of Owerri on Wednesday. The win condemned the Owerri side to their second consecutive loss in one week following a home defeat by Abia Warriors on Sunday.
Aniekan Ekpe’s deflected effort gave the Promise Keepers a deserved lead on 59 minutes but Onyebuchi Ajunwa replied almost immediately for the visitors. Kufre Ebong then put Akwa United back in front with ten minutes left before Michael Ibe Okoro put icing on the cake in stoppage time.
It was not a vintage Nest of Champions atmosphere in this Nigeria Professional Football League midweek encounter as the hosts continue to reel from their elimination from CAF Confederations Cup at the hands of Congolese side Vita Club Mokanda four days earlier. The rains poured early on to set the tone for some sort of comfort as there were no usual Cheerleaders in sight to lift the spirits of fans that turned out.
Some of the changes Coach Maurice Cooreman made was bringing in experienced duo, Aniekan Ekpe and Bassey Akpan to the starting lineup and while the former scored the opener, the latter kept Heartland at bay with a couple of fine saves.
The first half really failed to produce any sort of spark with half chances here and there, the best of them seeing Emmanuel Iwu in goal for Heartland tip an Ubong Ekpai cross-shot over shortly after the striker had an effort ruled out for offside.
The second half however started on a fast note and when Kounnou Paterne’s header came off the foot of the post for Akwa United, it was evident goals were coming.
Aniekan Ekpe’s quick thinking created the first goal for the hosts. He reacted first to Michael Ibe Okoro’s short corner and his effort was deflected beyond Emmanuel Iwu. Hardly had the ovation that greeted the goal died down before substitute Onyebuchi Ajunwa restored parity for Heartland with an unstoppable effort from 25 yards.
The hosts showed they needed it more and it was no surprise when Kufre Ebong ghosted behind the Heartland defence to head home Yusuf Adio’s incisive cross from 6 yards. There was still enough time for a header in stoppage time from Okoro who guided Namso Edo’s free kick home after Emmanuel Iwu misjudged the ball in flight.
It was some sort of respite and victory prayers and songs rendered by the team at full time showed how relieved the Promise Keepers were as they hope to make a swift return to the continent in coming seasons.