Reigning champions Enyimba needed not to reach second gear before seeing off Nasarawa United 3-1 in a rescheduled Match Day One game decided at the Enyimba International Stadium in Aba on Thursday.
Midfielder Austin Oladapo scored a brace – the first and last goal of the encounter – with Samson Obi netting his first goal for the club in between. Nasarawa had pulled one back through Hamzat Owolabi after Obi’s goal but there was always going to be one winner in the end.
Enyimba made a couple of changes to the side that drew at Katsina United on Sunday. Centre back Ifeanyi Anaemena is away on national team duties and was replaced by Stephen Manyo while Dayo Ojo was replaced in midfield by Jean-Marie Guera.
Nasarawa United lost their first game of the season at home to Wikki Tourists on Sunday and head coach Bala Nikyu made three changes to his starting lineup. Defender Bello Abdullahi was deployed to a defensive midfield role while Ibrahim Matthew started at right back with Usman Omede making his debut up front.
A Thursday fixture in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) tends to be lowkey and this was not an exception. Both teams took some time to settle and get precise rhythm in the game and when one did, it had to be the hosts.
The first chance of the game came in the 11th minute and was created by Enyimba’s in-form striker Martins Usule whose layoff was blasted over by winger Reuben Bala from just 20 yards out.
The next notable action resulted in the game’s curtain raiser. Usule was also involved as Nasarawa goalkeeper Danlami Umar mistimed a cross and punched the head of the striker instead of the ball.
Referee Hope Igho rightly but belatedly pointed to the spot after the striker, knocked unconscious had been taken to the hospital. Oladapo netted his take in the 18th minute, defying a strong arm by Umar to the attempt.
While the hosts dwelt in their realm of ease, United came out some more midway through the first half to create opportunities for a leveller. Owolabi and winger Abubakar Lawal were at the centre of everything good that they produced and it was the latter who went closest on the half hour mark; his free kick brilliantly tipped away by Enyimba keeper Theophilus Afelokhai.
Enyimba had the upper hand though and could have doubled their advantage in the 40th minute but left back Daniel Darkwah’s close range effort after a give-and-go between him and Usule’s replacement Abdulrahman Bashir was kept out by Umar.
There was no denying the People’s Elephant their second in the second minute of first half stoppage time. Captain Andrew Abalogu embarked on a surging run down his right flank before passing to Obi who turned to evade his marker before hitting a powerful low effort with his weaker left foot beyond Umar.
The hosts seemed to switch off early in the second half but were reminded of their responsibilities ten minutes after the break. Afelokhai was once again their saving grace when he kept out Lawal’s header. From the ensuing corner, the Solid Miners were awarded their own penalty after Bala clumsily hacked Solomon Chidi to the surface.
Owolabi took the spot kick. His initial effort was kept out by Afelokhai but the ball fell kindly for the forward who took his time before striking it into the bottom right corner.
Enyimba soon introduced diminutive playmaker Chukwuka Onuwa for an ineffective Jean-Marie Guera and it was the former MFM starlet that provided the final goal of the game in the 82nd minute. His incisive reverse pass caught the Nasarawa defence off guard with Oladapo ghosting behind them to slot home one-time beyond Umar.
Up next for Enyimba is a home tie against neighbours Akwa United on Sunday while Nasarawa United make a long trip away to Katsina United.