Christopher Isiguzo in Enugu
Rivers United’s hope of keeping their Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) status intact suffered yet another slip on Monday as champions Rangers defeated the ‘Pride of Rivers’ 2-1 at the Cathedral Enugu.
United is now in 16th place on the log with 41 points from 31 matches while Rangers climbed to 13th with 42 points from 32 matches.
The game was pushed forward by 12 hours after heavy down pour disrupted the Match-day 32 earlier billed for Sunday evening at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium.
Ifeanyi George profited from a sumptuous team move that completely carved the Rivers United defence open. Tope Olusesi provided the assist from the flowing move only for George to merely tap into an unguarded net from close range for the first of his brace of the day.
Rangers continued to dominate and won a penalty soon after the referee adjudged that Ifeanyi Nweke had handled the ball inside the box.
George stepped up and converted in nerveless fashion as he sent Femi Thomas, the Rivers United goalkeeper, the wrong way much to the delight of the home faithful.
The game earlier billed to be a dog fight between the top two teams of last season was a little easier for the Flying Antelopes at their fortress in the Coal City.
United were reeling and could have conceded a third had Godwin Aguda not lost his footing at the opportune moment with the visitors’ defence in sixes and sevens.
Rivers United’s Technical Manager, Stanley Eguma seemed to have delivered a rousing team talk as United looked a completely different side from the previous day.
They pushed the champions back more into their half in the second period and deservedly pulled a goal back in the 74th minute.
Nweke was brilliant in the build-up as he intercepted a dangerous Osas Okoro pass into the United half before playing a brilliant pass to Lukman Mohammed.
Mohammed raced all of 40 yards before passing deftly to the overlapping Nweke who coolly picked out Ogbugh with an inch-perfect low cross that the attacker stabbed home from close range.
It was Ogbugh’s third goal in as many matches in the NPFL and underlines his status as one of the division’s most potent marksman.
United pushed for a late leveller, throwing more bodies upfront but Rangers defended spiritedly to close out the win.
Last season, Rivers United and Enugu Rangers went toe to toe at the Nnamdi Azikiwe in what was dubbed ‘the title decider’.
The ‘Flying Antelopes’ and the ‘Pride of Rivers’ were, at that stage of the season, locked in a neck and neck battle for the NPFL diadem and many expected a game for the ages.
It turned out to be just that but wasn’t the close contest many had predicted. Rangers were peerless on the day and completely ripped Rivers United to pieces in a one-sided 4-0 victory.
But this season, after River United got knocked out of the CAF Confederation Cup, they have barely being managing and hoping they escape the drop. Rangers on the other hand have failed to reproduce the form that saw them end 32 years wait for the league trophy.
Head Coach of Rangers, Sylvanus Okpala is battling to save the image of the ‘Old Rangers’. He took over the team barely days after the sacking of Imama Amapakabo who led the Flying Antelopes to the league glory last season.