El-Kanemi rally to late win to halt Abia Warriors unbeaten streak
By Joshua Tekidek
El-Kanemi Warriors did just enough to edge a resolute Abia Warriors 1-0 at the El-Kanemi Sports Complex in Maiduguri in one of Sunday’s fixtures of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).
It was a late Innocent Gabriel belter that settled the contest which brought to an end Abia Warriors’ ambition of extending their unbeaten run from four to five matches.
Abia Warriors produced a solid defending performance to frustrate their hosts who dominated the game for larger spells.
The Umuahia club came to Maiduguri with a game-plan and made their intention known from the beginning with only Hyacinth Nwankwegu left up front and hoped for a counter-attack whenever they had possession of the ball.
Experienced duo of Chinedu Efugh and Austin Obaroakpo were in the thick of things for Abia Warriors as they put up superb individual performances to help their team take pressure after pressure from El-Kanemi.
El-Kanemi’s attacking threat came from the trio of Abdulwaheed Afolabi, Chinedu Ohanachom and Sunday Anthony most of the time.
With Mohammed BabaGanaru sensing that their direct approach was yielding no breakthrough against Abia Warriors well-organized setup, the former Kano Pillars head coach switched things and barked out to his men to pepper their opponents goal with shots from range.
First it was Isaac Giwa in the 24th minute who aimed a long range effort at goal, but his attempt was straight at Abia Warriors goalkeeper Godgift Elkana.
Ten minutes later, Anthony Yeful fired from way out and his goal-bound strike took a deflection for a corner.
Abia Warriors had a rare chance at goal in the 44th minute. Despite producing a good team move in a counter-attacking play, Samson Paul slipped behind the El-Kanemi defence too early and was flagged offside.
At the stroke of half time, Anthony scored for El-Kanemi goal but his effort was ruled out for offside.
El-Kanemi continued the second half from were they stopped by dominating possession. They continued to try from long range as well.
Four minutes into the second half, unmarked Afolabi’s header failed to open score.
At the other end, a mistake from the home defence allowed Nwankwegu to pick up the loose ball. He raced into El-Kanemi’s goal area before Lucky Erimuya’s brilliant defending stopped him as he attempt to shoot.
The visitors, from that point, dominated with El-Kanemi surviving three quick corners. Abia Warriors’ domination was momentary though and the Borno club took over and came close to scoring twice from Anthony and Afolabi’s efforts.
However the deadlock was broken in the 78th minute when from no where Gabriel fired a thunderous shot to send the an-already tensed fans at the packed stadium into wild jubilation.
Abia Warriors tried to level, abandoning their defensive tactics, by sending more men forward. With few minutes to go they made two quick changes bringing in Friday Chidera and Mohammed Garba for Nwankwegu and Chigozirim Metu but nothing hardly mustered anything out of their change in plan as the game finished 1-0 to El-Kanemi.
Match-winner Gabriel said he is excited that his first goal for the club secured all points as he feared that they were close to dropping points at home.
“This is my first goal for the team. I feel so excited more being a winning goal.
“I want my team to keep it up because this is an abridged league, and dropping any point at home is very risky,” the former Calabar Rovers player concluded.
El-Kanemi are currently in second place in Group B of the NPFL and are tied on 15 points with leaders FC Ifeanyiubah who have a superior goals difference.