The NPFL’s second Abia Derby of the 2016/17 season played out in the pouring rain of Calabar on Sunday afternoon.
A rousing 2-1 victory secured, not just bragging rights, but a place in the top three for seven-time champions Enyimba.
Much of the talk before the game had been about the profligacy of the Enyimba side in recent games, with captain Mfon Udoh in particular coming in for some criticism.
Technical Adviser Gbenga Ogunbote opted to rest him for the game on Wednesday against Gombe, a decision which proved to be an inspired one: the forward struck a goal in each half to make the points safe.
The game started at a good tempo, but there was very little incident in the goalmouths, as both teams struggled to get to grips with the wet, slippery conditions.
“We were playing a very direct game. In ‘rain ball’, you can’t afford to spend too much time in midfield,” Ogunbote said.
With the game played at a frantic pace, it was no surprise that much of the attacking impetus came from deliveries out wide.
Left-back Chima Akas advanced, and his cross was cushioned to Stanley Dimgba to turn smartly and fired narrowly wide.
The left-back would then be directly involved in the opener: he whipped in a low cross, which was handled for a penalty award.
Without a goal in four games, one might have expected some nerves, but Udoh’s finish was calm and unerring.
Barely a minute into the second half, there was a second. A communication fail in the Abia Warriors defence was punished in ruthless fashion, as Udoh lobbed over the advancing goalkeeper to double his tally and extend Enyimba’s lead.
Following this second, there were a couple of penalty appeals, first for a foul on Udoh as he made his way into the box, and then a barge on substitute Stephen Chukwude; both were waved away by the referee.
There would be an interesting twist, as both sides were reduced to ten men: Kelly Kester getting his marching orders after a huge face-off between both camps, an action which Ogunbote chalked up to extreme provocation. He however refused to endorse such a reaction.
“If you look at the game, the guy (Kester) had been kicked severally, without caution or anything. So, it was as a result of retaliation, that’s what happened.
“That said, it’s not good for the image of the team. It’s a thing we will go back and discuss among ourselves.”
There was still enough time for the visitors to pull a goal back, courtesy of former Enyimba man Chimezie Amanfor, who profited from another communication error at the back.
However, Enyimba held on for all three points, a result which takes them all the way up to third place on the table after 24 games played.
Enyimba (Udoh 22’, 46’) 2-1 (Chimezie Amanfor) Abia Warriors
Starting XI: Fatau Dauda, Chima Akas, Nelson Ogbonnaya, Ifeanyi Anaemena, Goodluck Onamado, Kelly Kester (red card 88’), Ikechukwu Ibenegbu, Stanley Dimgba (Lordson Ichull 80’), Mfon Udoh, Ugochukwu Leonard, Ibrahim Mustapha (Stephen Chukwude 70’)
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