A potential title decider looms as Rivers United visits the ‘Cathedral’, the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu to face Enugu Rangers on match day 34 of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).
Sunday’s game is one of the biggest this season as both sides, firmly in the hunt for the NPFL title, are only separated by a solitary point in the upper rungs of the table.
Rivers United overcame a massive injury crisis to win the reverse fixture 3-1 at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium, Port Harcourt on May 1.
On that dramatic day, Christian Weli scored a contender for goal of the season that day, a fierce, dipping and swerving effort from 35 odds yards while Bernard Ovoke underlined his status as a man for the big occasion with a well taken brace with Gabriel Olalekan’s unfortunate own goal, early in the second half represented the Flying Antelopes’ consolation.
Things have changed massively five months on as United has now been completely transformed from relegation candidates (according to most bookmakers at the start of the season) to a side with genuine title ambitions.
Technical manager of the Port Harcourt club, Stanley Eguma however realizes that getting a positive result in Enugu will be no walk in the park.
The experienced trainer however believes that it can be accomplished.
“Matches involving Rivers United and Enugu Rangers are always big matches and this one will be no different.
“The two sides are both involved in the title race and I am sure it will be a fiercely-fought game.
“We will try to come back with the points on Sunday,” Eguma said.
Ovoke still holds the magic key
Ovoke will definitely to start against Rangers unless he breaks a limb and he is slowly finding his range after a quiet couple of weeks.
The ‘Magic man’ scored the opener as ‘the Pride of Rivers’ won their last NPFL game 2-0 against Plateau United in Port Harcourt last Sunday.
He will be looking to inspire another win against Rangers following his sterling performance against the Flying Antelopes.
Eguma is spoilt for choice in goal with a late decision due to be made as regards who starts between the sticks with Abiodun Akande and veteran, Sunday Rotimi both in peerless form.
There is positive news also from the infirmary as Gabriel Olalekan has made a return to competition following the injury he picked up against Enyimba in the Federation Cup in two months ago.
Yusuf Jaiyeola is still injured (ankle sprain following the auto crash of two months ago) but there is ample cover with Weli, Obomate Frederick, Godwin Obinze and Felix Benjamin all doing impressive things in the Rivers United midfield in recent weeks.
Guy Kuemian and Chinonso Okonkwo have made their mark this season and are certain candidates to start upfront in Enugu on Sunday.
Imama, the Antelopes and 32 years of suffering
If Rangers lose on Sunday, the will almost certainly not win the NPFL title this season, a fact not lost on the club’s ultra-intelligent coach, Imama Amapakabo.
The youthful trainer is currently in Uyo with the Nigeria national team as they prepare to face Tanzania in a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier on Saturday.
He will leave Uyo for Enugu just hours before his side faces United in arguably their biggest game of the season but he says a win for his charges is on the cards.
“Travelling to Enugu from the Uyo is not a big deal and is nothing new for me. I did it before our last NPFL game against MFM FC and we won.
“I have extremely effective assistants who are doing very good work even in my absence.
“Teams from Rivers State are traditionally known to play attractive football and I am sure Rivers United will do that on Sunday.
“However, I am very sure we will win,” he said.
Amapakabo will be relying on trusted personnel like Nana Bonsu who is carving a niche as one of the most flamboyant goalkeepers in the NPFL.
Osas Okoro, Nnamdi Anyasodo, Pape Ousmane and Chibuzor Madu are solid spines in the Rangers side while Obinna Nwobodo, Chisom Egbuchulam and Godwin Aguda provide trickery and goals from the final third.
If Rangers are to win their first major title in 32 years, a win against United on Sunday is non-negotiable but the Port Harcourt side truly believe that they can claim an unlikely title at their first time of asking.
A potentially explosive football match for the ages awaits.
News24 reported that Rivers United coach Stanley Eguma had said his side’s 2-0 win over Plateau United was because they were better than their opponent.
Form guide (last five matches)
Enugu Rangers (WLLDD)
Enugu Rangers 1-1 Lobi Stars (H)
Enugu Rangers 1-1 Enyimba (A)
Enugu Rangers 0-2 FCIU (A)
Enugu Rangers 0-1 Nasarawa United (A)
Enugu Rangers 1-0 MFM FC
Rivers United (WLWWL)
Rivers United 0-1 El Kanemi Warriors (A)
Rivers United 2-0 Ikorodu United (H)
Rivers United 1-0 Heartland (H)
Rivers United 0-1 Kano Pillars (A)
Rivers United 2-0 Plateau United (H)