Akwa force draw in Jos to deny Plateau top spot

By Clement Nwankpa Jr

Plateau United saw their stay atop the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) this season brought to an end after Akwa United secured a 0-0 draw in Jos.

On the other hand, it was also the first time Akwa United under Coach Kennedy Boboye would fail to pick maximum points in five games.

After beating Enyimba 4-0 in their last game at this arena, the Peace Boys put up another dominant performance against Akwa but failed to make their dominance reflect on the scoreboard.

A combination of resolute defending by the visitors, brave goalkeeping by Jean Efala and the hosts’ profligacy contributed to the barren scoreline

Going into the game, Plateau were top with 24 points while Akwa were fourth with 22 points.

These were two highflying teams whose current forms marked out as title contenders.

In-form Akwa’s Five Match Winning Run

While Plateau had been consistent all season, after a stuttering start to the season, Akwa were enjoying a resurgence under Boboye who replaced John Obuh.

Akwa’s away form had been particularly impressive. Since Boboye mounted the saddle, they had won twice on the road. They were therefore one team expected to give Plateau some tough times at this venue.

Akwa were the most in-form team in the league having won their last five matches before the trip to the Tin City. This run ensured that the team enmeshed in the relegation zone prior to Boboye’s appointment, rose to 4th.

Much of this run was thanks to former NPFL top scorer, Akarandut Orok, who scored in all but one of those five matches.

Coached’ Rivalry

Another thing that raised the stakes in this game was the fact that both coaches, Plateau’s Abdu Maikaba and Boboye were up against their former teams.

Maikaba had a successful stint at Akwa where he won the Aiteo Cup in 2017, before moving to Plateau as Boboye’s replacement.

Similarly, Boboye, against the odds led Plateau to a league title in 2017, had a stint with Remo Stars in 2018 before his latest appointment.

Interestingly, there were talks of a coaching swap between both clubs when Maikaba shockingly joined Plateau with Boboye rumoured to be heading the other way. The Boboye-to-Akwa speculation was on till the Promise Keepers named a head coach.

Both coaches were involved with the national teams in the last dispensation. While Maikaba was one of Paul Aigbogun’s assistants in the U-20 national team, Boboye assisted Imama Amapakabo in the U-23 national team.

Akwa are experiencing arguably the league’s most remarkable ‘manager bounce’ in recent times with Boboye drastically changing the club’s fortunes. A club that looked set to be more involved with survival battles based on earlier results, were looking down at 15 other clubs before this tie while only three points adrift of the pacesetters.

Conversely, Plateau weren’t experiencing a manager bounce. They were reaping the fruits of Maikaba being on the saddle for a third season. His abilities were never in doubt. He only needed time to put his stamp on the team and that he has done. Not a few believe Plateau are the best passing team in the league. That is the hallmark of Maikaba’s teams.

The teams, no doubt, brimmed with quality on the benches. Add this to the array of stars on display on both ends, all pointed towards a feisty and action-packed encounter and the fans were not disappointed.

Coache’s Contrasting Tactics

Another thing that marked this tie out was the fact that both coaches had different philosophies. While Maikaba loved the smooth passing game and sets his teams up to thrill, Boboye is more defensively inclined.

The hallmark of Maikaba’s teams is their knack to entertain with displays that appeal to the eye. This possession-based game encourages elaborate build-ups to goals.

Boboye is however more pragmatic. He has this Mourinho-esque disposition that leans more towards results and he didn’t give a damn how the goals came. He always placed premium on his teams being disciplined and maintaining their defensive shapes..

In all these, they kept it tight at the back with uncompromising defenders.

With Plateau at home, they were expected to be on the front foot. So how they would break down a defense set up by Boboye was a star attraction.

Akwa failed to score…

This was one venue that always threatened Akwa’s winning streak. The run was always going to be truncated at some point but this point seemed like three for the visitors.

On the run of play, Plateau deserved maximum points but paid dearly for missing begging chances, particularly in the first half.

The biggest culprit was Abba Umar. As early as the 3rd minute, Mustapha nodded Daniel Itodo’s throw back into play Abba Umar reacted so slowly to a tap-in opportunity and Godspower Igudia cleared from virtually the goal line.

The hosts sustained the pressure and in the 19th minute, Nenrot Silas cut in menacingly from the left, played a one-two with Ochowechi before curling wide

Plateau kept banging on the door and it seemed a matter of time before they scored.

What else should Plateau have done to score? They would rue these missed chances in a half they pegged the visitors back in their own half.

In the second half, Akwa grew more into the game with the introduction of Dare Ojo. At this point, Ocheme Edo, who had also come on for injured Akarandut Orok, was combining well with Ifeanyi Ifeanyi to cause anxious moments in Plateau’s box.

It was no longer much of a one-sided game as the first half presented but Plateau still had decent chances.

Ultimately, the first half misses proved costly for Plateau but they will take solace in the fact that they ended one of the best run of games in the NPFL even if the result wasn’t what they desired.

Plateau United

Anozie Chinedu, Ibrahim Abubakar, Daniel Itodo, Isah Ndala, Andrew Ikefe (Salomon Junior 42′), Buhari Ibrahim, Nenrot Silas, Oche Ochowechi (Bashir Usman 62′), Mustapha Ibrahim, Abba Umar (Michael Ibe 59′), Uche Onoasonya

Substitutes not used: Dele Ajiboye, Gabriel Wassa, Charles Henlong, Mohammed Zulkifilu

Akwa United

Jean Efala, Etboy Akpan, Philip David, Wilson Elu, Denis Nya, Godspower Igudia, Ndifreke Effiong, Ifeanyi Ifeanyi (Dare Ojo 56′), Akarandut Orok (Ocheme Edo 39′), Morice Chukwu, Ubong Friday (Paul Obata 90′)

Substitutes not used: Akpan Bassey, Otobong Effiong, Kodjovi Dadzie, Marshal Johnson

Cautions: Isa Ndala (67′); Ndifreke Effiong (85′)

Stats

Plateau 0-0 Akwa
Corners 6-2
Fouls 8-12
Attempts 16-4
On target 2-0
Throws 20-12
Offside 1-3
Yellow card 1-1