A fantastic long range strike from Aya Saka proved decisive in Sunday’s Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) contest between Sunshine Stars and Rivers United in Akure.
The two sides went into the game which was decided at the Akure Township Stadium in poor form.
The Stars were winless in their last five games while United boasted of just a solitary win from their last four NPFL matches.
Clear cut chances were at a premium early on until 38th minute when Saka struck, profiting from a Sikiru Alimi pass after the visitors lost possession in careless fashion.
United improved after the break and were unlucky not to be back on level terms in the 52nd minute when Olrunleke Ojo reacted well to deny Nzube Anaezemba from point blank range.
Ojo earned top marks again on the hour with a save right out of the top drawer to beat out Esosa Igbinoba’s free kick from 25 yards.
The visitors were unrelenting at this stage, stepping on the accelerator in a bid to rescue the game from the throes of defeat.
Emeka Atoloma fired a free kick marginally wide in the 64th minute while Emeka Ogbugh shot straight at Ojo after embarking on a mazy run that left two Sunshine Stars defenders for dead in the 75th minute.
Substitute, Bernard Ovoke brought pace, urgency and trickery into the United forward line after he replaced Nzube Anaezemba but there was to be no positive end product.
The electrifying winger created an important opening at the death but Lukman Mohammed, another second half entrant could only hit the side netting.
The hosts were however not to be denied; they defended stoically in the closing stages to claim a deserved win in the end.
Head coach of the Akure club, Kayode Olujohungbe spoke exclusively to our official website, www.riversunitedfc.com.ng after the game pointing out Saka’s first half goal as the turning point in the game.
“The game was won when they relaxed in defence in the first half.
“I knew the best they could get against us was a draw and all they needed to do was to keep us out and they would have gotten a goalless draw,” he said.
The Rivers United technical manager, Stanley Eguma also identified his side’s fleeting loss of concentration in the first stanza as the major reason for the loss to the Owena Whales.
“It wasn’t a bad game. We lost as a result of a loss of concentration in the first half after some careless marking in midfield.
“It affected our game plan but we learned a big lesson today to always keep our concentration for an entire game.
“We really wanted to win today but it was not to be,” he said.
The victory came with rich rewards for Sunshine Stars as they left the relegation zone and now sit in 11th place on the league standings while United stay in 14th with 10 points from eight games.
Sunshine Stars: Ojo Olorunleke, Kehinde Adedipe, Ambrose Onyema, Boboye Ezekiel, Nojeem Raji, Ogor Kelechi, Peter Iyamu (Sunday Oluwadare 48’), Sikiru Alimi (Bright Babatunde 70’), Samad Kadiri (Kola Anubi 81’), Ayo Saka and Alaba Adeniyi.
Substitutes not used: Ariyo David, Okemini Ikpo, Yahuza Bala, and Abe Sunday.
Rivers United: Femi Thomas, Ojobo Markson, Zoumana Doumbia, Emeka Atuloma, Ayobami Asekunuwo, Festus Austine, Anaezemba Nzube (Ovoke Bernard 62’), Keumian Guy (Lukman Mohammed 79’), Asamoah Godbless (Emeka Ogbugh 57’), Esosa Igbinoba and Weli Christian
Substitutes not used: Sunday Rotimi, Ifeanyi Nweke, Douhadji Joseph and Aliassou Sanou.
Sunshine Stars; Sikiri Alimi (33’) and Kehinde Adedipe (65’),
Rivers United; Esosa Igbinoba (35’)
Red cards: Nil
Goal: Ayo Saka (38’)