Heartland’s Abiodun Thompson struck as early as the third minute and they held off stiff opposition from NPFL MatchDay 18 foes, Sunshine Stars in a high tempo game played at the Okigwe Township Stadium, Okigwe on Sunday.
It was a game Heartland needed the maximum points to get back to a reckoning at the back of their two-match winless streak including the 3-1 reverse against Akwa United in Uyo in their last game before the visit of the Owena Whales.
Heartland began the game with hunger and vibe and it was no surprise they took the lead in their very first real attack after Obioma Chukwuemeka and Ondo State-born Thompson combined beautifully to create a chance out of nothing to hurt his state team.
Obioma who became a father less than 72 hours prior to the encounter made a darting run into the vital area of the visitors before feeding an unmarked Thompson in the third minute and the striker received the gift with aplomb planting an unstoppable shot beyond badly positioned Ojo Olorunleke to send the stadium into jubilation.
Heartland were urged on by their opening goal as they created more scoring chances in the 8th, 11th and 16th minutes but they either fluffed them or met Sunshine Stars’ defence in fine form.
Sunshine created a goal-scoring opportunity of theirs like the one Anthony Omaka had in the 21st minute. Omaka dribbled past Pascal Eze but he was stopped by Jide Williams from coming on one in tango with goalkeeper, Ikechukwu Ezenwa.
It was the turn of Benjamin Francis to thwart Suleiman Mohammed from getting into goalscoring chance in the 23rd minute very close to the 18-yard box. Benjamin threw himself to the front of Sunshine’s danger man before nodding the ball to Ezenwa.
The first half ended 1-0 with Heartland holding on to the goal they scored early in the game but the second half was different.
Sunshine Stars players emerged from the dressing room to swarm on Heartland and dictated the pace of the game after they took over the midfield but the home team tried all within their armory to hold on.
The visitors’ biggest chance came in the 77th minute when Fuad Ekelojuoti playing against his former team dribbled two Heartland players and gave a clever pass to Jide Fatokun in Heartland’s vital area. Fatokun chose his spot very well and placed his shot beyond the reach of Ezenwa but the ball hit the woodwork and returned to play.
Heartland coach brought in two defenders in the 85th minute: Issah Lengkat and Julius Emiloju in place of Jacobs Olayemi and Samuel Nnoshiri to protect his lead as Sunshine pushed more players forward in anticipation of a likely draw.