Enyimba put up a strong showing, but it proved inadequate in a 2-1 loss to Akwa United in Uyo on Wednesday.
For the rescheduled Week 20 fixture, Paul Aigbogun rang the changes, rewarding Maxwell Effiom for improved performances in training. Benjamin Francis returned, having recovered from a lengthy injury absence, while Uche John and Ernest Governor started together at the heart of the defence for the first time.
A torrential downpour prefaced what proved to be a thoroughly entertaining spectacle, with the hosts settling quickest. Akwa had two efforts from range which were comfortably kept out by Afelokhai, before taking the lead in the 17th minute.
Enyimba, with two players down on the turf, reacted a tad slowly to Gabriel Wassa’s low cut-back, allowing Michael Ibe to run onto it first time and send a tame effort past Afelokhai.
Effiom had a presentable chance to level the scores in the first period, but he sent his shot wide after great work from Joseph Osadiaye down on the right flank. Chinonso Okonkwo then had a header saved from a Dare Ojo free-kick.
Osadiaye would himself come close to an equalizer early in the second period, as he made a great back-post run, but the cross to him from Francis was slightly too high.
A raft of substitutions turned the tide in the hosts’ favour once again, as Victor Mbaoma, fresh off the bench, twice tested Afelokhai. The hosts would then double their lead, as Dennis Nya rose highest to head home a corner by Aniekeme Asuquo in the 68th minute.
Enyimba pulled one back with 10 minutes to play, as forward Wasiu Alalade gratefully tapped home from close range, following an outstanding passage of play involving Andrew Abalogu and Chinonso Okonkwo on the right. There would, however, be no rousing comeback, as the hosts held on for all three points.
FINAL: Akwa United (Michael Ibeh 17′, Dennis Nya 68′) 2-1 (Wasiu Alalade 79′) Enyimba
Enyimba Starting XI: Theophilus Afelokhai, Andrew Abalogu, Uche John, Ernest Governor, Benjamin Francis, Dare Ojo, Austin Oladapo, Chinedu Udeagha (Wasiu Alalade 73′), Joseph Osadiaye (Freedom Omofoman 64′), Maxwell Effiom (Gabriel Orok 75′), Chinonso Okonkwo.
Unused subs: Friday Achimugwu, Ifeanyi Anaemena, Emeka Obioma, Tofic Omar.
Akwa United Starting XI: Ojo Olorunleke, Etim Matthew, Gabriel Wassa, Kelly Kester, Emmanuel Ariwachukwu, Dennis Nya, Asuquo Aniekeme, Michael Ibe, Ifeanyi Ede (Victor Mbaoma 62′), Ubong Essien (Nanen Imenger 60′), Paul Obata (Ubong Friday 83′).
Unused subs: Ismaila Shagari, Otobong Effiong, Godspower Igudia, Cyril Olisema.