Enugu Rangers’ dream of ending their 32-year trophy drought got boosted sunday following the Flying Antelopes’ 4-0 drubbing of Rivers United to go top of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) standings.
With the victory, Rangers are now top of the NPFL log with 54 points from 32 matches, one point more than the Rivers State owned team, who drop to second having played the same number of matches as the Enugu team.
Tope Olusesi shot Rangers into the lead in the 40th minute following an exhilarating move that carved the United backline open, leaving the hapless Abiodun Akande badly exposed in goal.
Godwin Aguda doubled Rangers’ lead almost straight from the restart before Christian Madu and Obinna Nwobodo rounded off the scoring for the Flying Antelopes with late goals to condemn Rivers United to the worst defeat in their history at a frenzied Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu.
The big news from the Rivers United camp before kick-off was that Obomate Frederick had failed to recover from an injury he sustained in the club’s last NPFL game against Plateau United and as such would miss the big game at the ‘Cathedral’.
Akande was also preferred in goal by the Technical Manager of United, Stanley Eguma ahead of veteran, Sunday Rotimi.
The visitors also lost captain, Festus Austin to a thigh injury shortly before the break and in the absence of these three trusted stalwarts, United looked a pale shadow of their usual self as a rampant Rangers side inspired by Nwobodo and Olusesi ran riot.
Osas Okoro’s extraordinary through ball in the 40th minute released Olusesi on the right whose first touch exemplified class, leaving a United defender for dead, before he rifled low and hard to beat Akande at his near post.
It was a psychological blow which they never recovered from as Rangers, smelling blood honed in for the kill and quickly doubled their lead, less than two minutes after the restart via an electrifying counter attack that produced an end product for the ages.
The irrepressible Olusesi was heavily involved in the goal as his defence-splitting cross from the right found Aguda in acres of space inside the United penalty area and the Rangers attacker gleefully applied the coup de grace.
United appeared to have been handed a route back into the match when Olusesi inexplicably head-butted Ovoke just after the hour mark and was justly rewarded with a straight red card to the consternation of the home faithful.
The numerical disadvantage rather than demoralise the hosts, seemed to have the opposite effect as they proceeded to carve chance after chance against the under-par visitors.
Any hopes of a comeback for United were quickly snuffed out by the dominant Rangers side as late goals from Madu and Nwobodo left United were left to ponder what might have been.
A shell-shocked Eguma praised Rangers for their win but promised that his charges would pick themselves up from the set-back and soldier on.
“We have never lost like (in our history) but then, this is football where anything can happen.
“We will take the defeat in good faith and go back to work harder to come back stronger,” he told Rivers United Media.
The Rangers Head Coach, Imama Amapakabo, also spoke after the emphatic win which saw his side return to the summit of the standings.
“I understand Rivers United very well and I am quite happy with the win.
“I told my players (before kick-off) this was going to be one of the easiest games we will play this season.
“To be honest, I did not know we would win by this margin but we will gladly accept it as it was deserved,” he told SuperSport.com.
MATCH DAY 34
Heartland FC 0-1 Ikorodu Utd
Elkanemi 2-0 Tornadoes
W’Wolves 1-0 Nasarawa
Akwa Utd 3-1 MFM FC
Plateau Utd 1-0 3SC
Lobi 1-0 Enyimba
Rangers 4-0 Rivers Utd
K’Pillars 2-0 Sunshine
STANDINGS TOP 4
Team P W D L GF GA GD Pts
Rangers 32 15 9 8 44 34 10 54
Rivers Utd 32 17 2 13 33 26 7 53
Wikki 31 14 9 8 40 23 17 51
Lobi Stars 33 14 7 12 36 31 5 49
Heartland 32 9 10 13 21 28 -7 37
Abia Warriors 31 9 10 12 27 35 -8 37
Ikorodu Utd 31 5 11 15 24 48 -24 26
Giwa FC 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0