In a tight game, two-time African champions Enyimba were victorious over runaway league leaders Lobi Stars on Wednesday in Calabar.
The rescheduled Week 21 encounter lived up to the pre-match billing, befitting the meeting of two top sides: plenty of goalmouth action, incident and palpable tension.
There were four changes made to the Enyimba lineup that came up short in the topsy-turvy 4-3 loss to Nasarawa United at the weekend. Notably, for the first time this season, captain Mfon Udoh was fit enough for a place on the bench following a long-standing knee injury.
Enyimba went straight into the ascendancy from the off, as Ibrahim Mustapha called on Lobi ‘keeper Olufemi Kayode to make a low save at his near post inside the opening five minutes. Jean Marie Guera then had a great chance inside the area after Abdulrahman Bashir’s cross broke to him, but his rasping shot was blocked by Ekene Olisema.
The 20th minute brought with it a scarcely believable miss. Joseph Osadiaye poked a through ball to Mustapha, who squared for an unmarked Bashir. Somehow, with the goalkeeper at his mercy, the striker touched it wide of the post.
The miss emboldened the visitors, as they came into the game a bit more. Former Enyimba man David Tyavkase was at the heart of their play, first thrashing an effort wide, before setting up Austin Ogunye for a shot which was blocked by Uche John.
Lobi continued in similar vein after the break, with Anthony Okpotu hitting the post after Uche mistimed his jump. Failing to take that chance would come back to haunt the league leaders almost right away, as Andrew Abalogu attacked down the flank, before supplying a peach of a cross. Bashir atoned for his first half miss, holding off his marker to head into the bottom corner for the opener.
To their credit, Lobi did not lie down. Tyavkase’s corner midway through the second half saw Hope Fiberesima had against the crossbar. Theophilus Afelokhai then was alert to deny Fiberesima again, this time from a high Ebube Duru cross.
There would, however, be no way back for the visitors, as Enyimba snapped a two-game losing run to move up to sixth on the table, with a game in hand.
FINAL: Enyimba (Abdulrahman Bashir 51′) 1-0 Lobi Stars
Enyimba Starting XI: Theophilus Afelokhai, Andrew Abalogu, Uche John, Isiaka Oladuntoye, Ikouwem Utin, Ernest Governor, Jean Marie Guera, Maxwell Effiom (Chinonso Okonkwo 62′), Joseph Osadiaye (Mfon Udoh 87′), Ibrahim Mustapha, Abdulrahman Bashir (Freedom Omofoman 70′).
Unused Substitutes: Friday Achimugwu, Benjamin Francis, Tofic Omar, Chinedu Udeagha.
Lobi Stars Starting XI: Olufemi Kayode (Ospino Egbe 62′), Solomon Kwambe, Ebube Duru, Hope Fiberesima, Umar Zango, Ekene Olisema, Olufemi Oladapo (Cletus Itodo 72′), Austin Ogunye, Anthony Okpotu, David Tyavkase (Ayo Saka 86’), Ezekiel Mbah.
Unused Substitutes: Bashiru Monsuru, Manir Ubale, Glory Chigozie, Kingsley Gbeneme.