Sunshine Stars pulled off a remarkable smash-and-grab to claim all three points in Sunday’s encounter against Enyimba in Akure.
Ajibola Otegbeye’s second half penalty decided a tie that saw the seven-time champions create by far the better openings, only to be let down by some poor finishing.
With the hosts mandated to play the game behind closed doors, it was an opportunity for Enyimba to rack up a second away win on the bounce.
To this end, Technical Adviser Gbenga Ogunbote made just two changes: Ifegwu Ojukwu’s place in the starting lineup was taken by Stephen Chukwude, while Andrew Abalogu came in for Dare Ojo.
That latter alteration would prove crucial.
Having spoken of the prospect of a “tough” encounter, in light of Sunshine’s loss last weekend at home to Lobi Stars, Ogunbote would have been unsurprised by the tense, stop-start nature of the game, especially in the opening period.
There were a number of heavy challenges early on, setting the tone for a keenly contested match.
It was Enyimba though who settled quicker, and after both Stanley Dimgba and Ikechukwu Ibenegbu had stung the palms of David Ariyo, the game’s first big chance came via a set-piece.
Dimgba whipped in a corner, which skipper Mfon Udoh attacked at the near post. His glancing header however bounced just wide of the upright.
It was a portent of things to come.
Four minutes before the break, some clever play by Ugochukwu Leonard caught the hosts’ defence flat-footed.
The reverse pass was perfectly weighted for Udoh, but his effort lacked conviction, and was easily stopped by Ariyo.
It may have been all square at the half, but it seemed only a matter of time before the breakthrough came for Enyimba.
Perhaps the best chance of the lot came in the 56th minute.
A swift attack resulted in a 3 on 2 in the final third, and Chukwude slid Udoh through on goal.
The forward had all the time in the world, but Ariyo made himself big, and the finish flew over the top.
“This was a game we should have won by at least four goals,” said Ogunbote ruefully.
Enyimba would be made to pay for their profligacy in the 68th minute.
After Dimgba had drawn a spectacular save from Ariyo, the hosts went on the attack and reaped the rewards.
Substitute Sikiru Alimi dribbled into the box, and was felled by Abalogu as he tried to wriggle away, leaving the referee with no choice but to point to the spot.
Otegbeye’s penalty was well struck, past the dive of goalkeeper Fatau Dauda, for the opening (and solitary) goal.
Yet, heads did not drop in the Enyimba camp, and there were two fine chances to get back in it.
Twice Udoh got behind the Sunshine defence; scooping his finish over the top in the 83rd, before cutting back for an onrushing Osadiaye to toe-poke wide from inside the area a minute later.
The hosts held out for the win and the points on the day, a result that surely flattered them. “It was an opposite reflection of the game,” Ogunbote said after the game.
“We are going home to go and confront the loss. We thought we would get something positive here.”
Next up is an engagement against table-toppers Plateau United in a week’s time at the UJ Esuene Stadium, Calabar.
“It [the loss] has happened, we have to go back home and make amends.”