Akwa United dropped two valuable points albeit away from home in their title chase after they were forced to a 1-1 draw by Rivers United at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium on Wednesday.
Striker Musa Newman gave the Promise Keepers a dream lead on 11 minutes when he side footed home a loose ball but United equalized three minutes later through Emeka Ogbugh’s deflected header.
Akwa were then presented with a golden chance to take the lead on 20 minutes when Rivers goalkeeper Sunday Rotimi upended Newman inside the box. The ageless goalkeeper however make amends by saving Alhassan Ibrahim’s spot kick.
Both teams came into this rescheduled Matchday 22 on the back of impressive home wins at the weekend and Akwa were able to recall the fit-again Ibrahim who missed Sunday’s game due to a hamstring injury he copped at Abia Warriors eight days ago.
It was a game expected to be an enjoyable experience and it did not provide anything short as both teams, especially the visitors treated the fans at the stadium to the best of football artistry.
Fully aware of the arduous task that confront them, Rivers settled into the game quickly with Guy Keumian and Lukman Mohammed seeing their long range from efforts go over inside the opening ten minutes.
Akwa however stunned their hosts with their first attempt on goal when Musa Newman who was lurking unmarked inside the box side-footed home Joseph Douhadji’s stretched header after a punt into the box.
Left back Ali Chiwendu, back in favour at Rivers United after spending most of the season out of the side troubled the visitors with his set-piece delivery all through the game and United’s equalizer came through one of such when Emeka Ogbugh’s header to his free kick was deflected to the roof of the net.
Rotimi, starting for Rivers since their CAF Confederation Cup Group A game against KCCA of Uganda on June 3 kept the scores level on 23 minutes when he dived to his left to deny Alhassan Ibrahim from the penalty spot as Akwa dominate.
Towards the end of a half dominated by Akwa United, Stanley Eguma’s Rivers United almost snatched the lead following a series of defensive lapses by the visitors.
Guy Keumian capitalized on a miscommunication between Conou Paterne and goalkeeper Olorunleke Ojo two minutes before the break but the former Sunshine goalkeeper recovered quickly to produce a superb save to deny the Ivorian Striker.
One minute later, Lukman Mohammed created worked a chance down the left flank for midfielder Esosa Igbinoba but his left-footed effort from 14 yards sailed over.
The tempo of the encounter markedly dropped in the second half but the hosts continued to ask questions through Ali’s dead balls and tentative long range efforts by midfielder Yusuf Jayeola.
The biggest chance of the half however fell to Akwa United six minutes from time when former Super Eagles invitee Gabriel Okechukwu carved out a great chance after some lovely footwork for Alhassan Ibrahim.
With Rotimi taken out of the way by Okechukwu’s ball, Ibrahim turned his marker inside the box but fired wide with a couple of Rivers defenders scrambling on the goal line.
It was indeed a huge let off for the hosts who only one week ago lost their first home game since they were re-christened Rivers United (from Dolphins) early last year.
Both teams ended up sharing the spoils the same way the reverse fixture ended in Uyo on Matchday 2.
Quite dangerously though, Wednesday’s result means Rivers United sit just two points ahead of the red zone ahead of a visit to Champions Rangers on Sunday while for Abdu Maikaba’s men, the point gained ensures they cannot fall below third spot regardless of their result in the “Lion’s Den” trip to Maiduguri on Sunday.