Abubakar’s strike downs Abia Warriors in Lafia

By Kanayo Jubal

Nasarawa United got their NPFL season off to a winning start over Abia Warriors in Lafia on Sunday, thanks to Abdullahi Abubakar’s lone strike.

The midfielder latched onto a high ball from skipper Emmanuel Makama in the 20th minute of play, controlled the ball beyond the touch of the Warriors’ defence line and tucked it beyond Uche Okafor, who was in goal for the visiting side, to the joy of the home fans.

The game began, and a ding-dong affair it almost was, with both sides being overly cautious and trying to catch each other out. But it was the home side who had the first chance as early as the third minute. Nwani Ikechukwu and Isah Ndala launched an attack that ended with a lamely-taken shot by the latter, which was easily scooped by Okafor.

Five minutes later, Abdullahi Abubakar played in Ndala again, but the cross was too high and ambitious.

In the 13th minute, Nwani danced dangerously around the Warriors’ defence, but was tripped when he went through. The home fans groaned, showing their impatience, while the felled player raised his hands, asking the referee for a foul. He did get the free-kick, but, Makama, who took the resulting kick, looped a little too high and Okafor watched it sail over.

The hosts continued to ask questions of their visitors and, in the 17th minute, again, Makama took a corner kick. Nwani rose highest to nod it in, but Okafor was on hand to punch it to safety.

The pressure continued to pile on one end but the chances remained unconverted for the hosts but the visitors could not organise their breaks beyond the last third.

However, in the 20th minute Makama’s floating cross was finely controlled by Abubakar in the presence of bamboozled defenders who raised their hands, trying to get the assistant referee’s attention that the man was offside, but the player kept his cool and buried the ball beyond a flailing Okafor.

The visitors, who were having a hard time holding onto the ball, finally got a break 10 minutes after, when Anthony Okemmiri took a free-kick – after the rampant Ibrahim Olawoyin had been brought down – only for it to careen off the hosts’ wall. It did not change much after then.

In the 33rd minute, the hosts nearly doubled their lead but it was not to be. Squandered again; this time by Daddy Morris, who scooped Makama’s pass, turned and belted off a scorcher which was parried by Okafor.

Ten minutes later, Olawoyin, collected a through-pass and was almost on his way to goal when he was flagged offside.

With the dawn of the second half, the visitors went in diligent search of a goal and would have drawn themselves even but for their shyness in the final third.

In the 58th minute, Okemmiri displaced his markers on the right flank, found Olawoyin, but the onrushing marksman got to the ball a mite too late and it was cleared away by Chinedu Ozor.

In the 63rd minute, the best chance of equalizing fell to Mark Daniel to make up for that slip-up. He broke away from his marker and sprinted down the hosts’ goal, only for his shot to find the side netting, to the chagrin of Warriors’ bench.

In the 77th minute, it was Nwani’s turn to go in search of a double for his side but, with a defender breathing down his neck and before he could decide what to do, Okafor made a precise dive, clattering into him and making a save at the same time.

Undaunted, Nwani got a chance at redemption – with the last chance of the game – in the 80th when Ekwuruibe Ndubuisi’s cross floated to him and he jabbed too high, a hair’s breadth away from the top bar, leaving the home fans momentarily speechless.

It was much like a repeat of both teams’ encounter in Lafia last season on Matchday 18, when the hosts ran out 1-0 winners, courtesy of Mohammed Shammasu’s lone strike.

TEAMS

Nasarawa United: 1 Galadima Mohammed; 5 Abdullahi Abubakar, 3 Emmanuel Makama, 11 Isah Ndala, 16 Manga Mohammed, 33 Bello Abdullahi, 14 Sunusi Ibrahim, 30 Daddy Morris, 9 Nwani Ikechukwu, 21 Douglas Achiv, 18 Ndubuisi Ekwuruibe

SUBS: 12 Danlami Umar; 6 Abdulbasit Shittu, 23 Maiyaki Ismaila, 17 Victor Okoro, 27 Haggai Katoh, 19 Attah Kadiri Jordan, 10 Adeiza Subairu

Manager: Bala Nikyu

Abia Warriors: Uche Okafor 33; Ozor Chinedu 5, Chisom Osuji 17, Emeka Isaac 18, Abiodun Adebayo 6, Chinedu Efugh 30, Anthony Okemmiri 34, Mark Daniel 14, Obi Samson 21, Shedrack Asiegbu 10, Ibrahim Olawoyin 11

SUBS: Joshua Enaholo 1; Ibe Tobechukwu 2, Ozioma Goodluck 32, Austin Obaroakpo 16, Yakub Hameed 13, Amos Ogbuagu 39

Manager: Henry Makinwa