Enyimba weathered an injury tsunami in Ilorin to claim a deserved point, drawing 1-1 against Kwara United.
The People’s Elephant might, in fact, have claimed all three, in a tempestuous, end-to-end encounter that saw two brilliant late chances spurned.
With Isiaka Oladuntoye serving the first of a three-match ban, there was an all-new defensive pairing for Enyimba, with Uche John and Ernest Governor holding the fort at the back. Ikechukwu Ibenegbu returned to the starting lineup for the first time since Rangers away.
A blistering start saw two-time African champions denied an early penalty for a tug on the goalbound Ibrahim Mustapha, before Governor got a whack in the shins for his trouble inside the area following an Oladapo free kick. This time, the referee pointed to the spot, and the returning Ibenegbu sent Kwara goalkeeper Godwin Ayalogu the wrong way to open the scoring.
Then followed the enforced overhauling of the forward line, with both Mustapha and Stephen Chukwude forced off inside three minutes in the blazing heat. Not however before substitute Freedom Omofoman danced into the box, only to be hauled back and see his incredulity greeted by indifference from the referee.
The hosts belatedly came into the game as the half wore on: Stephen Alfred tested Ikechukwu Ezenwa from range, and Michael Ohanu stole in at the back post to head over. Their best chance, though, fell to Godwin Emeka, whose effort from inside the box drew a fine fingertip save from the Nigeria international.
Six minutes after the second half restart, however, Kwara were level: Alfred finding time and space on the edge of the box to unleash low and left-footed into the bottom corner.
What followed was concerted pressure, but the two best chances of the final period fell to Enyimba. Chinonso Okonkwo wrestled his way into the hosts’ penalty area, and cut the ball back for an unmarked Omofoman, but the sprightly winger couldn’t dig it out of his feet.
Both combined again in the final minute of regular time, this time with Omofoman the provider, but with the same result – Okonkwo dallied, and the chance passed.
FINAL: Kwara United (Stephen Alfred 51′) 1-1 Enyimba (Ikechukwu Ibenegbu 9′)
Enyimba Starting XI: Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Fatau Dauda 67′), Andrew Abalogu, Uche John, Ernest Governor, Nasiru Sani, Farouk Mohammed, Ikechukwu Ibenegbu, Austin Oladapo, Abdulrahman Bashir, Stephen Chukwude (Freedom Omofoman 27′), Ibrahim Mustapha (Chinonso Okonkwo 29′)
Unused subs: Dare Ojo, Joseph Osadiaye, Tofic Omar, Stanley Dimgba.
Kwara United Starting XI: Godwin Ayalogu, Kabiru Isiaka, Lookman Binuyo, Magaji Issa, Akeem Onigbari, Chinedu Sunday, Godwin Emeka (Yakub Aliyu 75′), Stephen Alfred, Michael Ohanu, Rabiu Mohammed, Agboola Kayode (Sunday Obudu 47′)
Unused subs: Jonah Usman, Cyril Oriaku, Joseph Eyimofe, Wilson Anthony, Adamu Tijani
Yellow cards: Chinedu Sunday (KWA); Andrew Abalogu (ENY)