Enyimba Football Club came through a hard-fought game with a 1-0 win over Niger Tornadoes in Calabar on Wednesday.
The People’s Elephant, taking the pitch for the first time since a disappointing defeat in the CAF Confederation Cup, got back on track in added time at the end of the second half, striker Emeka Obioma heading home the winner from a Nasiru Sani cross.
There were no fewer than seven changes from the last outing in Brazzaville. Dare Ojo returned in midfield, while Theophilus Afelokhai started in goal for the first time in the league this season, with Fatau Dauda suspended.
It proved a particularly uneventful season debut for Afelokhai though, with neither side threatening in any concerted fashion in the opening half. There were, instead, a number of bookings, befitting a very scrappy affair.
The second half brought considerably greater urgency from Enyimba, with forward Wasiu Alalade typically busy. He saw a header saved impressively by Tornadoes ‘keeper Mustapha Aliko, and another effort blocked.
Winger Freedom Omofoman then sent Aliko scurrying past toward his own goal to paw away a looping header which was on its way in.
However, all that attacking thrust did leave the two-time African champions occasionally undermanned at the back, and twice Afelokhai was called into action to make alert stops: the second time to deny Mubarak Ejiogu, when it looked a certain goal.
Tornadoes would rue that missed opportunity late on as, with two minutes of added time played, substitute Emeka, making only his second appearance this season, rose highest to head Sani’s cross into the bottom corner for the winner.
FINAL: Enyimba (Emeka Obioma 90+2′) 1-0 Niger Tornadoes
Enyimba Starting XI: Theophilus Afelokhai, Uche John, Ifeanyi Anaemena, Nelson Ogbonnaya, Nasiru Sani, Dare Ojo, Austin Oladapo, Stanley Dimgba (Freedom Omofoman 23′), Abdulrahman Bashir (Emeka Obioma 68′), Ibrahim Mustapha (Chinonso Okonkwo 59′), Wasiu Alalade.
Unused Substitutes: Friday Achimugwu, Ernest Governor, Chinedu Udeagha, Tofic Omar.
Niger Tornadoes Starting XI: Mustapha Aliko, Iko James, Reuben Ogbonnaya, Ibrahim Babawo, Abdulkadir Zango, Austin Igenepo, Yahaya Yusuf, Mubarak Ejiogu, Bolaji Adeyemo (Bashir Usman 73′), Jonathan Osondu (Ahmadu Liman 49’), Andrew Ikefe.
Unused Substitutes: Terka Melai, Jumbo Wisdom, Iliyasu Isyaku, Tanko Awwal, Abubakr Naqeeb.
Yellow cards: Uche John, Austin Oladapo, Nasiru Sani (ENY); Mustapha Aliko, Mubarak Ejiogu (TOR)