Enyimba, Lobi Stars clash in delicate matchup in Calabar

By George Akpayen

Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) table toppers, Lobi Stars will have their title credentials face a stern scrutiny at the UJ Esuene Stadium in Calabar on Wednesday when they face seven-time champions Enyimba.
Lobi Stars are really having a fine spell in the top division having lost just once (2-1 to champions Plateau United) in their last nine matches this season — something that will make Paul Aigbogun’s men not treat this contest with kid gloves.

The People’s Elephant, on the other hand, have managed just a win in their last three matches in all competitions including in the CAF Confederation Cup. And the two-time CAF Champions League winners know that they have to put the full points on the board to give themselves a shot at the league title this term.

Enyimba defender Oke Ogagatewho acknowledged that fact after featuring in their 3-4 defeat at Nasarawa United over the weekend.

“We have to give it our all. All we need tomorrow is victory. I think  it will turn around the situation in the standings. We know what is at stake, and we know what we want,” said the former Warri Wolves man ahead of Wednesday’s rearranged fixture.

FIRST MEETING THIS SEASON

Aigbogun’s men will be buoyed that they took a point off Lobi when they first met this term at the Aper Aku Stadium in Makurdi. Lobi relied on a 65th-minute goal by Ezekiel Mbah from the spot to cancel out Chinedu Udeagha’s first-half strike on the first matchday of the season in January.

However Lobi have grown in stature from that team that produced a tepid opening day performance to one which is about to take the league title in a dash, having led at the top for 12 matchdays consecutively into this matchup. Anyway that will not change if they fail to win or avoid defeat in the port city of Calabar.

STARS TO WATCH

This game will have a pitch full of some big-names in the country. Lobi will have a field of veterans mixed with experienced gladiators for this big game. Their elderstatemen Cletus Itodo and David Tyavkase are expected to take charge of things in the middle of the park with last season’s leading scorer Anthony Okpotu, Ezekiel Mbah and Austin Ogunye in line to feature in attack.

Lobi also have in defence, an impressive playing personnel of full-backs in Solomon Kwambe and Ebube Duru as well as Umar Zango and Monsuru Bashiru in the heart of defence to cover for Olufemi Kayode who has been impressive in goal so far this season.

Enyimba are not short of their own stars despite having to play the season without some of their stellar names. In Theophilus Afelokhai and his Ghanaian Fatau Dauda, Aigbogun has two of the division’s top stoppers coupled with outfield players in Ifeanyi Anaemena, Maxwell Effiom, Chinedu Udeagha, Abdulrahman Bashir, Wasiu Alalade, Uche John and Freedom Omofoman who can turn any game on its head whenever he comes off the bench as an impact sub.

So Lobi could also have their hands full as they have to play without their top scorer this term.

MISSING IN ACTION

Lobi will miss the service of Samad Kadiri who begins a three-match suspension following a red card issued to him in his team’s 3-0 success over Yobe Stars on Sunday for an off-the-ball incident. Samad is Lobi’s leading scorer this term with seven goals.

Record goalscorer in a single season in the NPFL, Mfon Udoh, still remains sidelined. He is yet to play a single game for the People’s Elephant owing to injury, according to the club.

On Wednesday when referee Adebimpe Quadri from Lagos State sets the tone for this match, Lobi who have failed to win at Enyimba in their last 15 attempts will hope they can produce a shock result, or at least invoke their outing of May 1, 2016 when they were forced to a 2-2 draw. It was Chinedu Udoji (now late) who netted  Enyimba’s equalizer with two minutes to time to deny Lobi a famous away win on that occasion.