Battling Plateau United take point off Akwa United in Uyo
By Fisayo Dairo
Champions Plateau United produced a resilient display to hold hosts Akwa United 1-1 in a rescheduled Matchday 16 encounter at the Nest of Champions, Uyo on Wednesday.
Cyril Olisema gave the hosts the lead in the 53rd minute but substitute Hamzat Owolabi equalised for Kennedy Boboye’s men to give them the crucial point against the hosts who were without their head coach Abdu Maikaba due to international engagement.
Ifeanyi Ede struck the woodwork in the first half on his home debut for Akwa United and Plateau United goalkeeper Okiemute Odah produced an important stop, deep into stoppage time as the hosts lack of cutting edge reared its ugly head once again.
In the absence of Maikaba, Akwa United handed home debuts to defender Jamiu Alimi and striker Ede with Ifeanyi Ifeanyi and Cyril Olisema also making their home returns after injury layoffs. Goalkeeper Emmanuel Iwu also started in place of Ismaila Shagari with Olorunleke Ojo returning from a break to be on the bench.
Plateau United coach Boboye took a depleted squad to Uyo. Midfielders Raphael Ayagwa and Benjamin Turba were unavailable while winger Peter Eneji is on national team duties. That meant Reuben Bala continued on the flanks with Tosin Omoyele and Emmanuel Odafe upfront. Lengkat Isah joined Jimmy Ambrose to provide a solid midfield base for the Jos based side.
The hosts as expected dominated possession in the opening minutes but with little created going forward bar Kelly Kester’s effort which went over the bar. Visitors, Plateau United however almost stung the Promise Keepers in the seventh minute when striker Omoyele chested down Daniel Itodo’s long throw for Odafe but the attacker inexplicably hit his effort high and wide.
Akwa United tested Odah for the first time in the game in the 12th minute when a good team move ended with Cyril Olisema volleying from 20 yards. The goalkeeper dived low to his right to save.
Olisema again went close seven minutes later, this time a volleyed effort from inside the box after Ede chipped a pass towards him went over the bar.
At the other end, Omoyele continued to keep the hosts defence under check and in the 29th minute rose highest to meet Amos Gyang’s corner. His well directed header was superbly turned away by Iwu.
With the half destined to end goalless, Akwa United went rather agonizingly close in the 44th minute through Ede who held off his marker before turning to shoot inside the box. His effort rather agonizingly hit the woodwork and into safety.
With the last 15 minutes of the first half (especially) highlighting the team’s cluelessness in the final third, Akwa United’s acting head coach Zubar Aliyu substituted youngster Haggai Katoh at half time for new signing Paul Obata to make his debut.
The nimble-footed winger almost made an immediate impact at the restart when he made a delightful run inside the box before curling his effort just over the far top corner. The signs became glaring that Obata was going to bring the spark the hosts have yearned for.
The winger became instrumental and played his part in the game’s curtain raiser in the 53rd minute. His deft control led to a collision between Plateau players Itodo and Isah, he then freed Ede down the right who squared inside the box for the timely run of Olisema. The attacking midfielder neatly tucked it home one time beyond Odah.
Akwa continued to look for the insurance goal and Michael Ibe should really have done better in the 64th minute when he fired Ede’s intelligently laid pass over from inside the box.
It was time for Boboye to respond for Plateau and he sure did. First he replaced Isah with debutant Seth Mayi while Owolabi later come on for Amos Gyang. The latter’s entry brought more life into the champions’ attack and he could have equalised in the 73rd minute after a swift counter attack but his effort went over.
That would not matter one minute later as both substitutes combined to equalise for Plateau. After a quickly taken free kick, Mayi broke down the right before squaring for Owolabi who took a touch, held off Nya and shot on the turn into the roof of the net.
It was the turn of Akwa’s substitute Obata to effect the game and twice he tried but to no avail. First his free kick landed on the roof of the net with a section of the spectators thinking it was inside the net, and second, his header seven minutes from time was kept out by Odah.
Zubar sent in Gabriel Okechukwu to join Victor Mbaoma up front for the final seven minutes and that decision almost paid off deep into stoppage time when both players combined but with Okechukwu’s first touch taking his marker to the cleaners, his finishing effort, on his weaker foot was saved by Odah who made himself big at point blank range with the attacker.
Akwa United: 22. Emmanuel Iwu 4. Mathew Etim 20. Gabriel Wassa 12. Kelly Kester 6. Dennis Nya 14. Jamiu Alimi 5. Haggai Katoh (Paul Obata 46′) 23. Michael Ibe 8. Ifeanyi Ede (Victor Mbaoma 79′) 24. Ifeanyi Ifeanyi (Gabriel Okechukwu 83′) 26. Cyril Olisema
Unused Subs: 30. Olorunleke Ojo 16. Otobong Effiong 17. Victor Mbaoma 19. Paul Obata 25. Gabriel Okechukwu 32. Christopher Lolo 35. Godspower Igudia
BOOKED: Michael Ibe 75′
GOAL: Cyril Olisema 53′
Plateau United: 22. Okiemute Odah 2. Chizoba Amaefule 3. Daniel Itodo 5. Jimmy Ambrose 12. Elijah Ogene 34. Bitrus Wash 19. Reuben Bala 28. Emmanuel Odafe (Emma James 77′) 9. Tosin Omoyele 30. Lengkat Isah (Seth Mayi 58′) 11. Amos Gyang (Hamzat Owolabi 66′)
Unused Subs: 1. John Gaadi 15. Ibrahim Akide 36. Mafeng Pam 40. Abubakar Umar
BOOKED: Amos Gyang 15′ Reuben Bala 79′ Emma James 89′
GOAL: Hamzat Owolabi 74′
Akwa United 1-1 Plateau United
Shots (On target): 9(5)-6(3)