Abia Warriors, Akwa Starlets share spoils in feisty encounter

By Chibuogwu Nnadiegbulam

Abia Warriors were held to a 1-1 draw by visiting Akwa Starlets in what turned out to be a feisty MatchDay 7 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) encounter at the Umuahia Township Stadium on Sunday.

Following a barren opening half, Jimoh Oni gave the hosts the lead five minutes into the second half, but an enterprising Obo Eso Archibong scored the equalizer for the visitors, who had come to Umuahia in search of at least a point to make up for their heartbreaking defeat, midweek at home to Kano Pillars.

Although two points separated both sides coming into this encounter, with third-placed Akwa Starlets sitting three places above Abia Warriors in the league table, they had one thing in common; one defeat apiece.

Starlets, who are experiencing their maiden season in the top flight, had enjoyed a fairy tale run until they met with a rude awakening only a few days ago at the hands of Kano Pillars – losing 1-2 on home soil in a rescheduled match.

Coach of the Uyo-based side Caleb Esu made four changes to the starting eleven that lost in midweek. Adewale Mathias, Ukeme Umoh, Ojukwu Ifeagwu and Aniekan Ekpe were sent to the substitutes bench, while Archibong, Arinze Obuka, and Alalibo Somiari all got the nod to start, alongside Peter Etukhube, who was not in the last matchday squad.

For his part, Abia Warriors coach, Emmanuel Deutsch only made two changes from the side that drew goalless away at Rivers United last weekend, with Isaac Emeka and Bello Lukman replacing the duo of Zinte Udeh and Promise James, who were left out of the Matchday squad.

Seconds after the hosts kicked off proceedings they went for goal and were almost rewarded in the blink of an eye, but Akwa Starlets goalkeeper, Vincent Edafe refused to be caught unawares as he dived and successfully averted the early danger. The hosts sustained the pressure however, and got the first corner of the game inside the second minute, but it was headed out easily. Then soon after, Ubong Friday blasted his freekick over the bar.

When the pendulum swung the other way, Akwa Starlets’ first attempt at goal fell to Alalibo Somiari, but his shot failed to threaten Warriors’ goalkeeper Godgift Elkanah.

From then on, both sides went at each other, but it was the hosts that looked more likely to score. However, Lukman’s every effort could not find the back of the net. On one occasion he connected well with Auta Philip’s cross while inside the box, but headed over the bar. Then, he rammed into Edafe while trying to receive the ball from Isaac Emeka, following an impressive link up play, which had Oghenetega Ebetomame at the heart of it. Lukman went closest to scoring in the 42nd minute when Emeka floated in a corner, but his downward header failed to bounce into the roof of goal as he probably had anticipated.

Starlets had their own fair share of chances in the first half as well. In fact, Femi Ajayi scored in the 36th minute, but the goal was ruled out for offside. Before then, in the 18th minute, they could have taken the lead courtesy of an own goal, after Abia Warriors centre back Austin Obaroakpo lackadaisically headed the ball backwards not knowing that his goalkeeper, who was also anticipating the long ball, had left his post empty. So it could have been a case of Obaroakpo deflecting the b,all into his own net, but the ball went inches wide.

The second half did not start as fast-paced as the first, but it brought the much-needed breakthrough the game longed for when Jimoh Oni nodded the hosts into the lead for his third goal of the season. The goal came in the 50th minute after Obaroakpo’s throw-in and Lukman’s flick.

Eight minutes later, Starlets restored parity through Obo Eso Archibong. First, Archibong initiated the counterattack, then placed himself in the best position possible to finish well. It was Isaac George, who fed him the ball, which he tapped in graciously to level the scores.

As Abia Warriors grew desperate to regain their lead, while Starlets looked content with a draw, tackles began to fly from both sides. The home side mounted more pressure in the latter stages of the encounter but the Starlets’ backline was equal to the task.

Up next for Abia Warriors is a visit to the North Central region of the country where they will face Lobi Stars, while Akwa Starlets will have a bigger fish to fry when they welcome CAF Confederation Cup campaigners, Enyimba International to the Godswill Akpabio Stadium on MatchDay 8.

MATCH DETAILS

ABIA WARRIORS: 35. Elkanah Godgift, 16. Obaroakpo Austin, 6. Perfait Jean, 29. Innocent Gabriel, 18. Isaac Emeka, 3. Ubong William, 4. Fatai Abdullahi, 26. Oghenetega Ebetomame (Adeleke Adekunle 78’), 28. Bello Lukman, 11. Auta Philip (Abdulsalami Atilola 62’), 9. Oni S. Jimoh (Ogu Promise 85’)

Unused Substitutes: 33. Okafor Uche, 27. Bell Sylvester, 23. Odeh James, 14. Ugwuka Emmanuel

AKWA STARLETS: 1. Vincent Edafe, 2. Peter Etukhube, 3. Imo Obot, 4. Osimaga Duke, 12. Harrison Ibukun, 21. Alalibo Somiari, 6. Isaac George, 8. Obo Eso Archibong (Utibe Arit 77’), 35. Femi Ajayi (Ojukwu Ifeagwu 90+3’), 16. Arinze Obuka, 11. Moses Effiong

Unused Substitutes: 13. Thomas Omokhudu, 36. Adewale Mathias, 29. Ukeme Umoh, 10. Aniekan Ekpe, 27. David Enobong