The 2015/16 Nigeria Professional Football League season has come to an end and Rivers United are the shock vice champions.
Birthed barely eight months ago (February 19, 2016 following the merger of Sharks and Dolphins FC) many reckoned that the ‘Pride of Rivers’ would be nothing more than relegation fodder in a competition teeming with hardened competitors.
However, a clear blue print, dedicated leaders, players and officials coupled with consistent support from its sponsor, the Rivers State Government, the form books were torn to shreds and Rivers United finished the season as the second best side in the land.
Rivers United Media followed the team every step of the way and now provides a comprehensive break down of how we finished the just-concluded NPFL season as the second best side in the land.
Match day one: Rivers United 1-0 Enyimba (Yakubu Gowon Stadium. Sunday, February 21)
This was probably the worst possible way (on paper) to begin our season. Our first ever competitive game as a professional football club saw us pit our wits against the best side in the country, the then reigning champions and two time African kings, Enyimba International.
In all fairness, Enyimba bossed this one for long periods and should have won at a canter but a combination of profligacy exhibited by the visitors’ forwards coupled with some goal keeping right out of the top drawer from our vice-captain, Sunday Rotimi kept the score at 0-0 until the 65th minute when one man – Obomate Frederick – decided to write his name into the folklore of our football club.
We won a free kick 25 odd yards from the Enyimba goal and the little man stepped up to curl one delightfully beyond the reach of the Enyimba goal keeper, Theophilus Joel Afelokhai.
The stadium erupted in glee as the home faithful celebrated a famous win with Obomate suggesting afterwards that he had a premonition about the goal.
“(Before I took the free kick), I knew the hour had come (to score). I scored from a similar position against Warri Wolves and Enugu Rangers (last season).
“I give God the glory for the goal because I knew I was going to score.
“I practice free kicks in training and Deco was the player I learn from, just by watching him on television,” Obomate explained.
Match Day two; MFM FC 2-1 (Agege Stadium, Lagos. Wednesday February 24)
We endured probably our worst first half performance of the season in this game as the hosts ran us ragged inside the opening 45 minutes.
Only an inspired display by Rotimi kept us in the game with the new boys netting twice inside the opening 25 minutes with Ifeanyi Ifeanyi and Sikiru Olatunbosun providing the goal scoring contributions for the hosts.
We were truly mediocre in that first half and could easily have shipped in more goals.
MFM, in stark contrast, were flying and could easily have added two more goals before the break with our big defender, Joseph Douhadji making a goal line clearance off a Musa Newman chip in the 31st minute while Olatunbosun had a rocket beaten out unconventionally by Rotimi in the 37th minute.
Our technical manager, Stanley Eguma provided a huge half time team talk (not quite unlike the famous Sir Alex Ferguson hair-dryer episodes) and the lads improved dramatically after the break.
The introduction of fearsome Ivoirian attacker, Guy Kuemian helped too and his direct style, rare-devil dribbling and incision created a new dimension to our game, largely non-existent in the first half.
Kuemian’s debut was one to remember as he promptly delivered a cross with pin point accuracy for Obomate to head home from close range, reducing the deficit midway into the second period.
Our right back, Chigozie Ihunda was extremely unlucky not bring us back on level terms moments later when his fierce strike clattered against the post with the MFM goalkeeper, James Aiyeyemi well-beaten.
Eguma predictably blamed the slow start for our defeat in his post-match submissions to our Media Team.
“We were just not in the game in the first half. We improved in the second half but this is a lesson for us and we will learn from this,” he said.
Match Day three; Rivers 2-0 FC Ifeanyi Ubah (Yakubu Gowon Stadium. February 28)
We won this one at a canter largely because of our early goal which subsequently calmed frayed nerves.
We scored through Ihunda and Obomate (his third in consecutive matches) to close out a routine win.
Ihunda’s goal was scored in fortuitous circumstances as his left-footed strike deflected wickedly past a stranded FCIU goalkeeper, Edwin Nwakanma.
Our Ghanaian forward, Wilson Andoh provided the assist for the second goal as his cross from the right was headed in by Obomate in cold blooded fashion.
Obomate was rewarded for his performances by the League Bloggers as he won the LBA player of the month award for February.
“I am shocked but very happy to win the award.
“Shocked because I was not expecting to win with so many good players in the league and happy because it means hard word is appreciated.
“This means a lot to me but it will not get into my head. “I will continue working hard to improve and also help Rivers United get a continental position at the end of the season,” he said.
Match Day Four; Giwa FC 2-1 Rivers United (Rwang Pam Stadium, Jos. March 2)
Every member of our football club is still scratching his/her head as to why we failed to win this football match.
We seemed to be the better side for the majority of this game but somehow, we lost it in the end.
We dominated for large stretches despite Moses Opitoke’s sixth minute opener, scored against the run of play, for the hosts.
Missed chances characterized our play on a hugely frustrating day with Sunday Daniel scoring the second for Giwa FC, also against the run of play in the 73rd minute.
We hit back in stoppage time through Godbless Asamoah whose effort represented nothing more than scant consolation.
The gaffer, Eguma, was philosophical in his chat with our club’s media team after the game.
“We cannot complain too much. It was a strange game but when you don’t take your chances, you lose,” he said.
Match Day Five; Rivers United 1-0 Nasarawa United (Yakubu Gowon Stadium. Sunday, March 6)
This was arguably our most dramatic game of the season with the winner arriving with virtually the last kick of the game.
The celebrations at full time were wild, deeply emotional, furious and nothing short of manic as Kuemian struck in the final minute of second half additional time.
Nasarawa United came into the fixture with no points on the board after their first three games but Kabiru Dogo’s charges fought hard to claim a share of the spoils.
Their frustrating tactics almost earned them a point which would have been richly deserved in the end but Kuemian had other ideas.
He struck an opportunistic winner at the death which sent the fans wild as United claimed a heart-warming and crucial win.
Our captain, Austin said the win was more significant than the ‘normal three points’.
“This win is more than the normal three points. When you win games like these, it means something special will happen at the end of the season.
“I have been in football long enough to know this,” he said.
Match Day Six; Niger Tornadoes 3-2 Rivers United (Confluence Stadium, Lokoja. Sunday, March 13)
This was a football match match for the ages; a truly special contest that had the pulses racing.
Unfortunately, we lost by the odd goal in five after going three goals down inside an hour as Ismaila Gata, Gabriel Wassa and Jackson Daniel all netted for the home side.
A late fight back saw us reduce the deficit to 2-3 following goals from Daniel Israel and Kuemian but it proved to be too little too late for us as we lost yet again on the road.
Eguma rued ‘individual and collective mistakes’ afterwards as we continued to search for our first points on the road.
“We made individual and collective mistakes.
“We tried to come back late in the game but the damage had already been done, much earlier,” our gaffer, Eguma said afterwards.
Match Day Seven; 3SC 1-0 Rivers United (Lekan Salami Stadium, Ibadan. March 19)
We played this game with a numerical disadvantage for over 50 minutes after our left back, Ofem Inah was shown a straight red card shortly before half time.
Wasiu Jimoh scored the only goal of the contest from the penalty spot following Inah’s moment of indiscretion which led to a penalty.
Nojeem Olukokun was the 3SC player fouled in the penalty area and the Oluyole Warriors subsequently profited from 12 yards.
We came close to scoring on several occasions in the first half with Chinonso Okonkwo smashing a right-footed shot against the post in the 19th minute.
Kuemian also came close to scoring for us in the 15th minute while Yusuf Jaiyeola’s second half header which went narrowly wide represented our last chance of the half.
Despite the defeat, our performance attracted words of adulation from the 3SC coach, Kadiri Ikhana.
“No doubt about it (Rivers United is a good team). If you combine Sharks and Dolphins FC (both clubs were merged to form Rivers United), you will have a great force.
“By the time the team blends, they will play better than this; I have no doubts about it,” Ikhana told said.
Match Day Eight; Rivers United 0-0 Sunshine Stars (Yakubu Gowon Stadium. Wednesday, March 23)
We dropped points for the first time at home this season against a stubborn Sunshine Stars side that came to Port Harcourt with a clear game plan – get at least a point at all costs.
Kuemian missed a sitter from two yards out, very early in the first half and it set the tone for a frustrating day in the office when we frittered away a plethora of chances.
On a day that we dropped to 11th on the NPFL standings, our gaffer, Eguma explained that the team still needed to bond as a compact unit.
“We have not really started playing as a cohesive unit.
“I believe we will get it right in the shortest possible time,” he said.
Match Day Nine: Ikorodu United FC 2-3 Rivers United (Onikan Stadium, Lagos. Sunday, March 23)
We finally got it right on the road this season with our gaffer, Eguma opting to start three strikers, Kuemian, Andoh and Okonkwo against the Lagos side.
The three attackers all netted in the first half to cancel out Ifegwu Ojukwu’s brace.
Eguma was pleased with the win but insisted our lads will keep their feet firmly on the ground.
“This is not the time to celebrate. The league is a marathon and not a sprint.
“We must continue to work hard and stay humble because we have not achieved anything yet,” he said.
Match Day 10; Rivers United 1-0 El Kanemi Warriors (Yakubu Gowon Stadium, Wednesday, April 6)
We won consecutive games for the first time this season; and against a difficult opponent.
Israel came off the bench to telling effect as he squared for Okonkwo to tap home from a yard in the 66th minute to secure maximum points.
We were poor, offensively in the first half, despite dominating territorially and forcing no less than 15 corner kicks in the opening stanza.
However, we produced our best second half display of the season (up until this stage) could easily have easily scored three or four more after Israel’s strike.
The win saw us rise to fifth on the standings with 16 points, just three adrift of the leaders, FC Ifeanyi Ubah.
Our gaffer, Eguma was understandably pleased with our performance.
“It was important to win this game after that victory in Lagos but we have to continue working hard,” he said.
Match Day 11; Heartland 2-1 Rivers United (Dan Anyiam Stadium, Owerri. Sunday, April 10)
This was an extremely difficult game in which we lost by the odd goal in three.
Anthony Oussou and Onyebuchi Ajunwa both netted for the Naze Millionaires either side of the break while our goal which was scored by Okonkwo, was nothing more than scant consolation in the end.
Our Ivoirian marksman, Guy Kuemian suffered a serious injury -a strain of the left quadriceps- in this game and would end up being side-lined for more than a month.
Heartland deserved to win this one and their head coach, Alphonsus Dike summed it up aptly in the end.
“It was a keenly-contested game and a good result for us. “My boys were able to adapt to the situation; they played the way they were supposed to in the end.
“They did well,” Dike told explained shortly after the game.
Match Day 12; Rivers United 1-0 Kano Pillars (Yakubu Gowon Stadium. Sunday, April 17)
This was billed as our second real test of the season (after our opening day win over Enyimba) and once again, we proved to be the masters at handling big occasions.
It was also the day when Bernard Ovoke announced himself as a man to be feared and respected, in equal measure.
The ‘Magic Seven’ netted the game’s decisive goal in the 78th minute, nine minutes after he was introduced as a second half substitute, following a defensive mix up in the Pillars defence.
The win over Sai Masu Gida was vital with our gaffer, Eguma explaining that painstaking pre-match preparations saw us claim bragging rights in the end.
“I had been monitoring Kano Pillars for a while now and I know how they play.
“They play a possession-based game with a view of running down the clock in away games but in the end, our tactical plans worked to perfection,” he said.
Match Day 13; Plateau United 2-1 Rivers United (Rwang Pam Stadium, Jos. Sunday, April 24)
Our second visit to the Rwang Pam Stadium ended in heartbreak as Plateau United claimed a late winner in an intense game.
Benjamin Turba gave the hosts an early lead but we hit back through Okonkwo whose looping header, nine minutes from the end gave us hope of claiming a share of the spoils.
An unfortunate own goal by Rotimi at the death however handed the home side maximum points.
“We should have gotten a point or even all three today but we lost it (at the death).
“We must put that behind us now and look ahead to the next game,” our gaffer, Eguma said afterwards.
Invaluable words as we would face the best team in the league (at that point) – Enugu Rangers, in our next game.
Match Day 14: Rivers United 3-1 Enugu Rangers (Yakubu Gowon Stadium. May 1, 2016)
With the benefit of hindsight, this was the most important game we played so far.
If we had lost, it very likely would have knocked the wind off our sails!
The bookies gave the game to Rangers long before kick -off, but we produced a devastating display of the highest quality to tear the form books to shreds.
Missing no less than four of our first choice strikers, Okonkwo (due to suspension), Kuemian, Andoh and Godbless Asamoah (as a result of varying degrees of injury), we prosecuted the game without any recognizable striker.
The ‘Magician’ Ovoke however lived up to the occasion, pulling the strings and helping himself to a first half brace.
Christian Weli scored a spectacular goal as we ran riot in a frenzied first half.
Olalekan Gabriel inadvertently diverted a cross into his own goal (the first and only time we conceded at home in the first half this season) in the first minute of the second half to briefly give Rangers hope of an unlikely comeback.
It was however the closest the ‘Flying Antelopes’ came to getting any joy in Port Harcourt with Ihunda and Kola Anubi spurning excellent opportunities to add to our lead late on.
Eguma’s tactics caught everyone off guard and he took the time to explain his decisions with lour media team after the game.
“When I realized that all of my strikers were unavailable, I decided to draft Ihunda as the main striker because I knew he could do a good job.
“He did not disappoint but everyone in the team played well.
“Like I will always say, nobody at Rivers United is getting carried away because we have achieved nothing this season.
“We know what our objectives are and we will continue to work harder to achieve it,” Eguma said.
Match Day 15: Warri Wolves 0-1 Rivers United (Warri City Stadium, Warri. May 8, 2016)
We recorded our second win on the road in deserved fashion against an excellent Wolves side.
Ovoke was the goal scoring hero for us, side-footing home calmly from close range following good work from Asamoah and Okonkwo.
The ‘Magic Seven’ almost scored our second in the 72nd minute but drew his shot marginally wide off (Wolves’ goalkeeper) Dele Ajiboye’s left hand post, after taking the entire Wolves back line to the cleaners.
The electrifying winger was given a standing ovation by the home fans when he was eventually substituted in the 80th minute -a just reward for a barn storming display.
The win was however overshadowed by the news that Ihunda had picked up a serious knee injury.
He did not play again last season as a result (and he was sorely missed).
Ovoke spoke to our media team shortly after the full time whistle went, revealing, (obviously to the dismay of opposition sides) that he was yet to hit the peak of his powers.
“I was pleased to have received a standing ovation from the Warri Wolves fans.
“Right now, I am doing well, but I am still not yet back to my best. I was playing a lot better when I was at (former club) Bayelsa United but slowly, I am getting back there,” Ovoke said.
Match Day 16: Rivers United 1-0 Wikki Tourists (Yakubu Gowon Stadium. May 8, 2016)
This was a tightly-fought contest against one of the best sides (from a tactical perspective) in the league.
Olalekan was the unlikeliest of heroes for us in this one as his first half header off an Ovoke delivery saw us climb from sixth to second of the log.
We had to dig deep against the side with the best attacker in the league- Godwin Obaje- knowing that we were playing without two first choice defenders; Ihunda and our inspirational captain, Festus Austin.
Eguma admitted after the game that playing without the two important defenders almost worked against the team.
“Missing out on the services of Austin and Ihunda made the game very difficult for us.
“The captain has been very inspirational for us.
“However, we had to show a lot of maturity and character in the game and that gave us the win,” he explained.
Match Day 17: Abia Warriors 1-0 Rivers United (Umuahia Township Stadium. May 15, 2016)
This was the worst game we played in the first half of the season largely because there was little football to be played!
A terribly water-logged pitch in Umuahia clearly inhibited both sides from playing any real football.
Michael Olaha scored the game’s decisive goal on 24 minutes but it failed to paper the cracks on what was a very ugly game of football not helped by a shocking playing surface in Umuahia.
Even the Abia Warriors coach, Kennedy Boboye complained about the state of the pitch after the game.
“We could not do what we were supposed to do because the pitch was water-logged.
“As a result, we had to alter our game plan by playing the ball into our opponents’ half and fighting them (the opponents)there,” Boboye explained tepidly
Match Day 18: Rivers United 1-0 Akwa United (Yakubu Gowon Stadium. May 18, 2016)
We beat an excellent Akwa United side 1-0 in Port Harcourt with Ovoke netting the winner in the fifth minute.
Clear cut opportunities were few and far between in the contest but we almost doubled our lead on the stroke of half time.
Ovoke’s teasing ball, following exceptional work by Obomate found an unmarked Asamoah on the left but the Ghanaian skied his volley wide to the anguish of the home faithful.
Obomate missed a gilt-edged opportunity in the second half as Akwa pressed, unsuccessfully, for a late equalizer.
Eguma admitted that his charges underwhelmed on the day but praised the opposition for playing brilliantly.
“We lost a lot of balls in midfield today and that allowed our opponents to put us under a lot pressure.
“The reason for this is that our players still have not recovered from the exertions of our previous game against Abia Warriors (in Umuahia on the previous match day decided on May 15) which was a very difficult game.
“However, it is important to win games like these and I am pleased we did it,” he said.
Match Day 19: Lobi Stars 1-0 Rivers United (Aper Aku Stadium, Makurdi. May 22, 2016)
This was game of great of football exemplified by even greater drama at the death!
Ovoke had two excellent chances in the first half-the second, a left-footed shot which was cleared off the line- but we were clearly second best in a first stanza which could have seen Lobi easily go four or even five goals up.
The home side eventually took the lead on the hour when a penalty was awarded with the ruling that our captain, Austin had handled in the penalty area.
Sunday Ekleche made no mistakes as he fired past our goal keeper, Rotimi from 11 metres.
Lobi Stars were however always going to struggle to keep up with the intensity with which they started the game and as they tired, we took the game by the scruff of the neck.
We were awarded a penalty of our own in the final minute of second half added time after Moses Bunde stopped Christian Weli’s goal-bound effort with his arm.
Okonkwo however buckled under immense pressure and fired his penalty well over the cross bar to the anguish of the travelling support.
Eguma was predictably downcast afterwards.
“The Lobi side started game better in the first half, attacking and trying to get goals but my players showed a lot of character, absorbing the pressure and stopping them from scoring.
“We played better in the second half and should have scored even before they got the penalty but unfortunately it was not to be,” he explained.
END OF FIRST ROUND (GIWA FC WAS EXPELLED AFTER MATCH DAY 18 SO OUR 1-2 LOSS ON MATCH DAY FOUR WAS EXPUNGED FROM THE RECORDS.)
Match Day 20: Rivers United 1-0 Lobi Stars (Yakubu Gowon Stadium, Port Harcourt. June 5, 2016)
We left it late to beat a well-drilled Lobi side with Weli netting in the 79th minute to secure maximum points.
In a game that failed to hit the heights experienced in the reverse fixture, we just about got the job done in the end.
The goal was the product of a set piece as the midfielder headed in Chiwendu Ali’s expertly-delivered corner with the Lobi goal keeper, Okiemute Odah well beaten.
“I thank God for the win and incidentally, I scored a similar goal against Lobi Stars (for defunct Dolphins) last season.
“I knew I was going to score and we will continue to push on this season,” match winner. Christian Weli said afterwards.
Match Day 21: Enyimba 0-0 Rivers United (Umuahia Stadium, Port Harcourt. June 5, 2016)
This was the Rotimi show. Our goal keeper was peerless, a force of nature as he denied the champions time and again at a frenzied Umuahia Township Stadium.
In fairness, Enyimba was by far and away, the best side we faced last season and on this day, we could have easily lost by three or four goals if our goal keeper was not in such inspired form.
Enyimba did not score but they were dangerous from start to finish. Guile, ability, outrageously gifted individuals who could turn a game on its head on a six pence, the Peoples’ Elephant possessed all these aplenty and proved that they were not champions for nothing.
We had our moments in the first half with Kuemian and Ovoke coming close with a gilt-edged opportunity and a 25-yard free kick respectively.
Enyimba then took over, dominating for most parts of the half but Pyagbara, Dare Ojo, Etor (on two occasions), Uwadiegwu and Uche John all failed to breach the United back line.
The closest the People’s Elephant came to breaking the deadlock in the first half was in the 42nd minute but Rotimi, who was had a blinder of a game, produced a spectacular double save right out of the top drawer to deny Pyagbara and then, Anaezemba in quick succession.
Olalekan saved our blushes with a goal line clearance minutes after the restart to keep the score even as Enyimba continued to throw the Kitchen sink at us.
Mfon Udoh who worried us all afternoon, had several wonderful goal scoring opportunities to put us to the sword but Rotimi would not be beaten.
We could have even done a smash and grab had Kuemian’s fearsome volley not clattered against the cross bar in the 67th minute with a shell-shocked Enyimba goal keeper, Femi Thomas barely moving a muscle.
Eguma was a relived man at the full time whistle but he was quick to acknowledge that his charges fought like Gladiators against the two-time African champions.
“The two sides played good football and the game was enjoyable.
“It was a compact and keenly-contested game and the only thing lacking was a goal.
“If we had taken the chances that came our way, we could have even won the game,” he said.
Match Day 22: Rivers United 4-1 MFM FC (Yakubu Gowon Stadium, Port Harcourt. June 12, 2016)
For the first time, an opposition player – Austin Ogunye – breached our defence but there are always repercussions when you touch the tail of a Viper!
MFM came to town with their colourful hordes of supporters, creating a din like no other at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium.
The visitors ensured their fans left for joy in the 30th minute when Ogunye curled home from close range following a devastating counter attack – MFMs first real attack of the game.
We were stung into action and were quickly back on level terms in a matter of seconds when Kuemian turned home Inah’s cross to stun the vociferous away fans into silence.
Ovoke is never satisfied when he does not notch up a goal scoring contribution and he helped himself to one in the 39th minute as normal service resumed.
With our lads now playing with boisterous panache, 2-1 quickly became 3-1 when Ovoke’s dangerous free kick was swept home by Kuemian for his brace on 66 minutes.
We were unrelenting in our attacking play and two minutes later, Ovoke and Okonkwo combined brilliantly to set up Yusuf Jaiyeola for his first goal of the season.
It was a day the visitors would not forget in a hurry and only profligacy prevented us from adding further gloss to our comprehensive victory.
The MFM head coach, Fidelis Ilechukwu was stunned after the defeat as he shared his sentiments with our media team.
“To lose like this today is a big shame but Rivers United is a very good team.
“They have very good players who can destroy any team.
“They were too skilful and too powerful for us today.
“This Rivers United team will go places,” he said.
Match Day 23: FC Ifeanyiubah (FCIU) 0-0 Rivers United (Ifeanyi Ubah International Stadium, Nnewi. June 19, 2016)
We went into this game with high hopes, a positive mind set and intimidating form but got deservedly beaten in the end.
Ovoke should have opened the scoring for us early on but missed a chance from a 25-yard free kick.
FCIU didn’t exactly start strongly but the moment they got into their stride, we stood little chance of claiming any joy.
Maduabuchi Okereke opened the scoring for FCIU with a goal of real quality in the 25th minute while Ismaila Gata added a second for the hosts in the second half.
We did not perform to our standards and deserved nothing from this one as we lost by two-clear goals for the first time this season.
Eguma had no complaints afterwards as he addressed our press team.
“We lost today and they (FCIU) were better. They deserved to win and I give them kudos.
“We will go back home to prepare for the next game,” Eguma said.
Match Day 25: Nasarawa United 1-0 Rivers United. Aper Aku Stadium, Makurdi. June 12, 2016)
There was no action for us on the previous match day following the exclusion of Giwa FC, the side we were meant to play on match day 24.
We lost our second game in succession by a single goal in Makurdi to a Nasarawa side in dire need of points.
Abdulrahman Bashir plundered the only goal of the game on the hour and try as we did, we failed to level matters.
Eguma said the team was ‘unfortunate’ not to pick any points from the game.
“We had no luck. There were some chances we had in both halves but luck was not on our side,” he said.
Match Day 26: Rivers United 1-0 Niger Tornadoes (Yakubu Gowon Stadium, Port Harcourt. July 10, 2016)
We returned to Port Harcourt for the first time in a month and won by a slim margin against a well-drilled Tornadoes side.
Ovoke was our match winner as he cut in from the right and curled home an unstoppable effort past the despairing Tornadoes goal keeper, Mustapha Aliko in the 22nd minute.
Ovoke and Kuemian missed excellent chances to extend our lead in the first half but it was the visitors that had the best chance of an exciting opening period.
Clumsy defending by Olalekan gifted the Minna club a penalty in the 33rd minute but Gabriel Wassa dragged his effort wide from 12 yards off Sunday Rotimi’s left hand post.
Clear cut opportunities were few and far between in the second half as we closed out an important victory.
Eguma said there was no case of his charges underestimating the opponents on the day.
“We did not underestimate Tornadoes because we know they are a very strong team.
“They gave us a tough battle as we expected but in the end, we were able to win and that was the most important thing.
“They played well but if we had converted the chances we got today, the margin of victory would have been wider,” he said.
Match Day 27: Rivers United 2-0 Shooting Stars Sports Club (Yakubu Gowon Stadium, Port Harcourt. July 16, 2016)
We enjoyed a simple win today against 3SC with both our goals coming in the first half.
Kuemian and Obomate were the men who scored for us as we won again to stay within the top reaches of the table.
Eguma was not happy with a lack of intensity in the second half which he put down to complacency.
“We took things too easy in the second half but we cannot continue like this in subsequent matches if we want to achieve our set objectives,” he said.
Match Day 28: Sunshine Stars 1-0 Rivers United (Akure Township Stadium. July 23, 2016)
This game will always be remembered for the only goal of the game – a scorcher of a free kick by veteran attacker, Dele Olorundare.
Olorundare hammered an unstoppable free kick into Rotimi’s top right hand corner from all of 35 yards to send the stadium into raptures.
It was the most beautiful goal scored against us in all competitions this season.
We should have, in all honesty, picked up at least, a point in this one as we enjoyed several great opportunities in either half to make the Akure club suffer.
Obomate hit the side netting, midway into the second half but we did not play with the conviction required to claim anything from such a difficult place.
Eguma, as always, bared his mind to our media team after the pulsating contest.
“It was a good game and we prepared very hard to win as a good result would have helped our position on the log.
“We have lost now and must look ahead because the league is getting tougher now.
“We must work hard and try to win the title or at the very least, get a ticket to represent Nigeria on the continent next season,” Eguma said.
The defeat left us in third place, three points adrift of the joint leaders, Enugu Rangers and Wikki Tourists.
Match Day 29: Rivers United 2-0 Ikorodu United (Yakubu Gowon Stadium, Port Harcourt. July 16, 2016)
We faced the bottom club in this rescheduled game but needed two days to complete the contest as a result of heavy rains on the first day.
Idris Aloma and Onyekachi Okafor scored our goals in the send half of a tense contest as we put the plucky ‘Oga Boys’ in their place.
Ikorodu United’s head coach, Shakiru Giwa praised us for our success and described us as ‘potential champions’ of the NPFL.
“It wasn’t a bad game. We tried our best but we played a good side.
“I believe that is football. Rivers United is a good side; they possess the ball very and they are potential champions (of the NPFL), he told said.
Match Day 30: El Kanemi Warriors 1-0 Rivers United (Maiduguri Township Stadium. August 7, 2016)
We were the better side in this one and Abiodun Akande, who deputized for the suspended Rotimi shone like a million stars.
However, a lapse in concentration saw us lose by the slimmest of margins.
Chinedu Ohanachom scored the only goal of the game in the 61st minute.
Eguma said he was pleased with our showing but blamed ‘one bad mistake’ for the loss.
“We were fantastic but we made one bad mistake and that is why we lost,” he said,
Match Day 31: Rivers United 1-0 Heartland (Yakubu Gowon Stadium, Port Harcourt. August 17, 2016)
Heartland made life extremely difficult for us in this one but we managed to win it 1-0.
Weli headed home Ovoke’s perfect cross in the 36th minute to give us the win much to the delight of Eguma.
“Heartland is not a pushover even though they are in a precarious position on the log.
“We did not underrate them and that is why you (media) saw a very interesting game.
“I thank my players for their efforts but we must continue working hard,” he said.
Match Day 32: Kano Pillars 1-0 Rivers United (Sani Abacha Stadium, Kano. August 20, 2016)
Gambo Mohammed scored a superb goal in the 23rd minute to condemn us to defeat before a capacity crowd in Kano.
Our best chance of the half fell to Aloma whose blinding volley flew just wide with the Pillars goal keeper, David Obiozor beaten.
Weli had two excellent opportunities in the second half with Ojobo and Ovoke coming close as well as we desperately looked to even matters.
Pillars however finished the stronger following a red card to Godwin Obinze for a second bookable offence.
Our forward, Okonkwo blamed spoke to our media team after the game, blaming our inability to convert numerous chances as chiefly responsible for the defeat.
“We failed to take any of our chances and it cost us today.
“Hopefully, we will make up for this disappointment with positive results in subsequent matches,” he said.
Match Day 33: Rivers United 2-0 Heartland (Yakubu Gowon Stadium, Port Harcourt. August 28, 2016)
We won this one at a canter with Ovoke and Israel netting our goals.
Ovoke converted a penalty in the 31st minute after Salomon Junior handled Kuemian’s goal-bound effort in the 25th minute.
Substitute, Israel completed the scoring for us in the 84th minute to seal maximum points as we stepped up our chase for the title.
Eguma was in cheerful mood after the game.
“I believe that the league is not over. If we keep working hard, we will maintain our position at the top till the end of the season.
“For today, it was a hard fought victory but my players did well under the circumstance.
“One side had to win and we were the better side,” he said.
Quite as well, because our next game was our season-defining game, against the side that eventually finished as champions –Enugu Rangers.
Match Day 34: Enugu Rangers 4-0 Rivers United (Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu. September 4, 2016)
This remains probably the worst day in the history of our football club.
It was meant to be a clash between the top two title contenders but in the end, it proved to be a stroll, a coronation for the unstoppable and sleek-playing Flying Antelopes.
We were truly mediocre, torn to pieces, especially in the second half by a Rangers side truly inspired on the day and exemplifying total football in all its versatility – poetry in motion for the most part.
Tope Olusesi’s strike in the 40th minute separated both sides at the break but we were confident of equalizing in the second half.
It was not to be.
Our captain, Austine picked up an injury just before half time and in his absence, we imploded spectacularly.
Midway into the second half, we seemed to have been handed a route back into the match when Olusesi inexplicably head-butted Ovoke just after the hour and received a straight red card to the consternation of the home faithful but that was all the good news we got on a sober day.
Godwin Aguda Wanbe, Christian Madu and Obinna Nwobodo scored fantastic goals in the second half to transform the ‘Cathedral’ into a cauldron of noise, music, song and dance.
Eguma was apologetic afterwards as he struggled to explain his side’s worst display of the season and the biggest defeat in the history of our football club.
“We have never lost like (in our history) but then, this is football where anything can happen.
“We will take the defeat in good faith and go back to work harder to come back stronger,” he said.
Match Day 35: Rivers United 3-1 Warri Wolves (Yakubu Gowon Stadium, Port Harcourt. August 28, 2016)
We were clearly lacking in confidence for this one following that morale-shattering defeat to Rangers and so it was no real surprise when Wolves netted the first goal in the 28th minute through Kelvin Itoya.
Our superior quality shone through in the end against the relegation-threatened side and we roared back through goals from Obinze, Ovoke and Kuemian to win comprehensively in the end.
Technical manager of Rivers United, Stanley Eguma expressed satisfaction with the performance of his charges.
“It was not easy but I thank the players for their character.
“It was impressive coming from behind to win in such a resounding manner.
“However, it is not over yet because the other clubs around us are very close,” he said.
A combination of intriguing results involving Wikki Tourists and Rangers now meant that we would be crowned champions if we won our last three games of the season.
Relegation battlers, Abia Warriors and mid-table side, Akwa United were our last two opponents but first, there was the small matter of the trip to Bauchi where the undefeated (at home) Wikki Tourists lay in wait.
Match Day 36: Wikki Tourists 1-0 Rivers United (Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu. September 18, 2016)
This was a tightly-fought contest. No side had beaten Wikki in Bauchi and they had scored more goals in front of their supporters than any side in the league all season.
We could have won here in unlikely fashion but conceded against the run of play in the 79th minute.
Two minutes before Wikki netted their winner, we came agonizingly close to breaking the deadlock when Babatunde Bright’s audacious effort flew just wide from 50 metres.
Eguma was philosophical in defeat.
“We played very well but it was not to be in the end as they scored very late in the game.
“We cannot complain but we will continue to work hard to see that we achieve something positive at the end of the season,” he said.
We still had two matches to salvage our season. Our next match was at home against Abia Warriors…..surely, we would win.
Match Day 37: Rivers United 0-0 Abia Warriors (Yakubu Gowon Stadium, Port Harcourt. September 25, 2016)
How we did not win this game remains one of the biggest mysteries of our season.
Kuemian could have racked up a hattrick inside the opening 15 minutes but failed to hit the mark
The Warriors hardly offered anything from an attacking perspective as they set up shop for a point which would ultimately act as a catalyst to their aspirations of escaping the drop.
It was a tale of missed chances as our forwards failed to click.
With news filtering in that Rangers had won away at already relegated Ikorodu United, we knew only a miracle would see us win the title at the first time of asking.
“There is nothing we can do now because if Rangers win their last game of the season against El Kanemi Warriors in Enugu, whatever we do in Uyo against Aka United cannot alter the destination of the title,” an extremely distraught Eguma said after the game.
Match Day 38: Akwa United 1-2 Rivers United (Godswill Akpabio Stadium, Uyo. October 2, 2016)
We won this one but there was the absence of manic celebrations in the end.
Such was the anti-climactic nature of the result with Rangers winning 4-0 against El Kanemi Warriors of Maiduguri at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium on the same day.
Obomate and Kuemian scored either side of the break to render Akwa’s Fortune Omoniwari’s effort purely academic.
THE VERDICT BY GAFFER (STANLEY EGUMA)
“We suffered a lot but I thank God that we have been vindicated in the end.
“This club came into existence just days before the season commenced and we were a lot of people’s favourites to be relegated.
“We however knew what we were about and stood true to our values of hard work, discipline and total trust in God.
“Today, the result is there for all to see.
“To have gone into the final day (of the season) still with a chance to win the league is no mean feat.
“It is a pity we did not win the league title but it is quite clear that we performed much better than a lot of people thought we would,”
Rivers United finished their first ever season in the Nigerian top flight in second place with 60 points from 36 matches and will now compete in the 2017 Caf Champions League.