Lobi Stars produced one of the best away performances so far witnessed this season to beat Kano Pillars 1-0 at the Sani Abacha Stadium, Kano.
What caught the eyes of many at the arena was the well-knit Lobi Stars defence but noteworthy was also that Gbenga Ogunbote set up his team so well that they were equally dangerous in the final third.
The standout performer in the game was skipper Alex Aghahowa, who formed an impenetrable wall in front of the back four of John Lazarus, Ebube Duru, Reuben Ogbonnaya and Adeleye Aniyikaye.
Aghahowa won all the key duels, snuffing life out of most promising Kano Pillars attacks before they got into the box. For his efforts, he was duly voted man-of-the-match by the journalists at the venue.
But it wasn’t all about the defending, Lobi Stars looked dangerous whenever they got on the counter with their attacking duo of Sikiru Alimi and Abdulwasiu Mahmud, who is set to be one of the revelations of the season.
A debutant in the league, having signed on from an academy, Mahmud benefited from all the attention lavished on Alimi. Alimi attacked all the first balls and consistently teed-up Mahmud, who lurked around the box for the flick-ons.
And with former Pillars midfielder, Nzube Anaezemba, Tamara Ezekiel and Douglas Achiv in the middle of the park, the attackers didn’t lack supply as the visitors enjoyed a fair share of possession.
The game was so keenly contested in the first half that it was hard to predict where the first goal would come from.
In the 3rd minute, Anaezemba, back to familiar ground, saw his 20 yards left-footed effort go wide. Two minutes later, Pillars responded with a well-struck long-range effort by Adamu Hassan which went narrowly wide.
Auwalu Ali cut in from the right, in the 9th minute, but his curler missed the target. Then in the 12th minute, Lobi keeper Daniel Moses parried away Nyima Nwagua’s cross for the game’s first corner-kick. From the ensuing corner-kick, Abdulahi Musa’s header was just inches wide.
Pillars had fought back gallantly and seemed to have seized the initiative but Alimi and Mahmud were serving up intermittent reminders on the counter. In the 15th minute, Alimi held the ball up, then played on Tamara whose one-time effort was held by Suraju Ayeleso.
Ten minutes later, Alimi carved out a shooting opportunity in the box but shot wide. And in the 27th minute, Alimi popped up down the right, dropped the ball invitingly to an advancing Aghahowa outside the box. Aghahowa chested the ball down and unleashed a left-footed canon which was deflected into corner.
That sent shivers down the spines of the hosts. At that point, they knew they were in for one hell of a game.
Lobi were up to it in every department. They were up to the physical demands while the attackers had no difficulties bulldozing their way through a Pillars rear guard that paraded Musa, Ifeanyi Nweke, Chris Madaki, Sunday Chinedu behind midfield enforcer Kelly Kester.
Ogunbote’s wards nearly went ahead before the break but Tamara’s goal-bound effort was parried into corner by Ayeleso. That was the save of the game.
The goal did come in the 62nd minute. Mahmud did all the hard work, leaving most of Pillars defenders trailing with his blistering pace and footwork before putting the ball on a plate for Achiv to jab in.
Pillars pushed for the leveller but with Aghahowa in such a form, they always stood little chance breaking down Lobi’s resistance.
They came so close in the 78th minute when Musa hit the woodwork from a corner. But that was the closest they came to equalizing as Lobi made a big statement of their intentions this season. It was a masterful away performance that, if replicated on a more regular basis, they should have a say on where the title rests when the cutting is drawn for the season.