Rivers United recorded their most emphatic victory of the season on Thursday evening when they hammered reigning Cup champions Rangers International 3-0 in a rescheduled NPFL Match Day 9 encounter decided at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium, Port Harcourt.
Goals by Malachi Ohawume 36′, Wasiu Jimoh 59′ and Nelson Esor 76′ inflicted back-to-back defeats on Gbenga Ogunbote’s men for the first time this season and lifted Stanley Eguma’s side out of the relegation zone into a lofty 4th.
While the scoreline suggests a comprehensive rout, it indeed was more of an efficient display by the hosts who until Thursday had failed to score more than one goal in a league match this term. Their visitors however bore the brunt of a fairly depleted side through injuries after a hectic run of schedule.
Scorer of United’s first goal; Ohawume was rewarded with a fantastic State FA Cup form as he was handed a rare start in the league while defender Kunle Odunlami was deployed as a holding midfielder for the Pride of Rivers.
For Rangers, they were without their first choice right back Tope Olusesi, first and second choice left backs Isaac Loute and Ugwu Uwadiegwu; central defenders Isiaka Oladuntoye, Akpos Adubi as well as attackers Ifeanyi George and Pascal Seka all through injury bar the latter who just had his red card rescinded late on Wednesday night.
In spite of their troubles, Rangers almost took the lead in the 5th minute after good work from Emeka Ayogueke – making his full league debut for the Flying Antelopes but Godwin Aguda’s effort was cleared off the line by Odunlami with goalkeeper Abiodun Akande beaten.
Rangers once again had a chance two minutes later with Ayogueke at the centre of it but Adun Osamudiamen should have done better while shooting over from 20 yards. Immediately at the other end, United had a free kick in a decent position but Konan N’gouan’s effort was deflected agonisingly wide.
Rangers’ rising injury profile continued unabated and during the first half, 2014 World Cup star Michael Uchebo was substituted after coming off worse in a coming together between him and United defender Festus Austin. Former Sharks of Port Harcourt star Ibrahim Ajani replaced him after the half hour mark.
In spite of Rangers’ structural dominance, Rivers United took the lead against the run of play nine minutes before the break, profiting from a momentous injury. Rangers defender Issif Traore, also making a rare start in the league went down after an aerial challenge with Ossy Martins, the ball fell to Kehinde Adedipe whose effort was deflected by Pape Sane onto the path of Ohawume. The striker kept his composure to volley into the bottom right corner as the home fans heaved a sigh of relief.
With the exception of their last game at home to Sunshine Stars, United have won all games in which they scored first this season and they came into the second half with the intentions of holding firm to their 1-0 lead, as evident in their gamesmanship.
After a period of nothingness in the second half though, United stunned their visitors further with a well-worked second goal in the 59th minute. Lively left back N’gouan and Bakary Bamba exchanged passes down the left and the former crossed low into the box for a totally unmarked Jimoh who tapped home beyond Nana Bonsu.
United gained more confidence with the second goal and at least stroke passes around almost for the first time in the game, much to the admiration of their fans. With the chains of their one goal per game broken, Esor added a third fourteen minutes from time, his first goal for the club. The former Go Round star brilliantly evaded two Rangers defenders including Sane before poking home into the bottom right corner.
The final seven minutes of the game were for Rivers goalkeeper Akande to entertain the crowd with some pieces of ‘audacious but exciting when successful’ goalkeeping. First he raced off his line to make a sweeping clearance before Ajani could get to the ball, he then continued by diving accurately to block Ifeanyi Egwim’s effort from the clearance, about 40 metres to his goal.
Akande then produced a René Higuita moment to deny Egwim’s free kick three minutes from time. He produced an unorthodox flying header to keep out the former Dolphins star’s free kick in what was the final piece of noteworthy action in the game.
From the relegation zone which they were before Thursday’s game, Rivers United climbed to joint fourth on the league table with 23 points and just one point behind third place MFM FC who they will face on Match Day 17 in Lagos on Sunday.
Rangers meanwhile still sit pretty top of the Group A table with 31 points, six points clear of second placed Enyimba who will be their hosts on Sunday in Aba.
Rivers United: 1. Abiodun Akande 26. Peter Ubakanma 3. Konan N’gouan 32. Kunle Odunlami 19. Festus Austin 33. Temple Emekayi 6. Wasiu Jimoh (Nelson Esor 65′) 24. Kehinde Adedipe (David Ogar 81′) 25. Malachi Ohawume 8. Ossy Martins (Ademola Adebambo 86′) 15. Bakary Bamba
Unused Subs: 30. Drissa Bamba 5. Samson Gbadebo 17. Chigozie Ihunda 21. Cletus Emotan
BOOKED: Festus Austin 61′
GOALS: Malachi Ohawume 36′ Wasiu Jimoh 59′ Nelson Esor 76′
Rangers: 25. Nana Bonsu 11. Chidera Ezeh 34. Adun Osamudiamen 26. Tony Shimaga 32. Issif Traore 5. Pape Ousmane 40. Emeka Ayogueke (Ousmane Zeidine 84′) 30. Chiamaka Madu 9. Michael Uchebo (Ajani Ibrahim 33′) 22. Solomon Okpako (Ifeanyi Egwim 60′) 2. Godwin Aguda
Unused Subs: 31. Opubo Japhet 4. Okey Odita 14. Felix Ogbuke 27. Ajani Ibrahim 29. Ousmane Zeidine 35. Ifeanyi Egwim 36. Chidiebere Okolie
BOOKED: Adun Osamudiamen 45′