Plateau United see off Rivers United in clash of big guns

By Clement Nwankpa Jr

Plateau United have overtaken Lobi Stars at the top of the NPFL table after defeating Rivers United 1-0 in a Matchday 18 tie at the New Jos Stadium.

Mustapha Ibrahim’s 3rd minute strike was all the hosts needed to reclaim top spot.

Playing a day after Jigawa Golden Stats had beaten Lobi Stars at Sani Abach Stadium Kano, the Peace Boys, who were second going into this clash, knew victory would pilot them to the top.

The stakes were even higher as Plateau and Rivers were second and third respectively on 29 points, just adrift of Lobi. So any team that emerged victorious would replace Lobi at the top with just one matchday to the halfway mark.

Rivers United’s impressive away form before this tie had not gone unnoticed after picking eight points on the road winning twice in the process. While the visitors could draw confidence in this pre-match form, it also alerted the hosts.

Rivers had never been top this season but had hovered around the territory. This was one opportunity to end the week as pacesetters. But with an ambition that clashed with the hosts, who crave a second title after the historic 2017 triumph, it was always going to be a tall order.

If the visitors ever wanted to get a favourable result from this tie, they must have factored in Daniel Itodo’s long throws. This has been many teams’ undoing against Plateau United since 2017 and there doesn’t seem to be an antidote yet.

Teams spend the larger part of their training sessions before the games against Plateau working on how to curtail the bombs coming from the left-back’s hands but would still be on the receiving end on match day.

Even current Plateau head coach, Abdu Maikaba noted for his possession-based pattern, feasts on the threat posed by Itodo’s throws.

This time, Itodo caught the visitors napping as early as the 3rd minute. There was a seeming harmless throw-in around the center circle. And just as the opposition were making their way to the box to ward off Itodo’s throw, he heaved a quick one to Mustapha Ibrahim who seeing the keeper off his line nodded the ball high beyond Akande Abiodun into the net.

That goal came within the run of play as the hosts had been on the front from the blast of the whistle when Oche Ochowechi teed-up Ibrahim whose effort was parried into corner by Akande Abiodun. Coming just seconds after kick off, it was a major statement of intent by the hosts.

From then, they never released their feet from the pedal. They kept pushing as the visitors remained on the back foot for most of the match.

Rivers had all manner of problems to deal with. If it wasn’t the midfield quartet of Uche Onwuasoanya, Oche Ochowechi, Nenrot Silas and Charles Henlong that gave no inch, they either had to curtail the forays of the attacking duo of Mustapha Ibrahim and Abba Umar or Itodo’s throws.

In a first half that the hosts should have led by as many as three goals, Itodo’s throws posed the biggest threats.

In the 15th minute, Andrew Ikefe met Itodo’s throw but nodded narrowly wide. Three minutes later, it was Abba Umar’s turn to power Itodo’s throw off target.

Anytime Itodo had the ball in his hands, there was pandemonium in the visitors’ box.

But it wasn’t just those throws. Plateau carved out chance after chance as they overwhelmingly dominated possession in this half.

In the 19th minute, Ochowechi’s well curled free-kick wasn’t so far from target.

Seven minutes later, Abba Umar got to the end of Onwuasoanya’s free-kick but his effort strolled across goal.

Another Onwuasoanya delivery in the 30th minute was nodded wide by Mustapha Ibrahim.

Then in the 43rd minute, Umar’s inch-perfect cross was jabbed to the upright by Mustapha Ibrahim.

The visitors lived on the edge in this half and must have heaved a sigh of relief when the referee signalled halftime.

The hosts weren’t so dominant in the second half. Feeling the job had been done in the first half, and the visitors not posing much threat, they merely saw off the game.

But they still created a few chances. In the 69th minute, Itodo’s cross was acrobatically met by Bernard Ovoke, who had come on a minute earlier, but Abiodun parried into corner.

Then in the 80th minute, Ochowechi cut in from the left but his goalbound shot was deflected into corner.

Onwuasoanya got an opportunity to put the icing on the cake in the 90th minute but Abiodun’s strong arms diverted his pointblank effort into corner.

Ultimately, the hosts pocketed well-deserved maximum points against a direct competitor and further highlight their title credentials.

Teams

Plateau United: Chinedu Anozie, Ibrahim Abubakar, Daniel Itodo, Charles Henlong, Andrew Ikefe, Buhari Ibrahim, Nenrot Silas (Bernard Ovoke 68′), Oche Ochowechi, Mustapha Ibrahim, Abba Umar (Isah Ndala 74′), Uche Onwuasoanya (Tosin Omoyele 90′)

Substitutes not used: David Obiazo, Elisha Golbe, Gabriel Wassa, Mike Ibeh

Goal: Ibrahim Mustapha 3′

Yellow cards: Abba Umar 63′

Rivers United: Akande Abiodun, kazie Enyinnaya, Konan Ruffin (Esor Nelson 57′), Lookman Binuyo, Kunle Odunlami, Temple Emekayi, Michael Enaruna, Stephen Gopey (Malachi Ohawune 67′), Ogbonna Onuoha (Ossy Martins 86′), Cletus Emotan, Bamba Bakary

Substitutes not used: Ospino Egbe, Ifeanyi Onyeali, Peter Ubakanma, Joshua Akhabue

Goal: Nil

Yellow cards: Temple Emekayi 17′, Stephen Gopey 60′, Ogbonna Onuoha 84′

Stats
Plateau United 1-0 Rivers United
Corner 6-2
Fouls 14-20
Attempts 13-2
On target 5-1
Throws 21-16
Offside 4-7
Yellow Card: 1-3