Lobi Stars, FC Ifeanyi Ubah

Lobi Stars returned to winning ways after beating FC Ifeanyiubah 1-0 at the Aper Aku Stadium, Makurdi on Wednesday.

Samad Kadiri’s goal just five minutes into the game proved decisive ultimately. Since beating Kwara United in Ilorin on Matchday 22, Lobi have had little to cheer by way of results on the pitch.

They threw away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Kano Pillars in Makurdi on Matchday 23 before losing 0-2 to Heartland in Okigwe on Matchday 24.

This winless streak meant they lost grounds on pacesetters Plateau United. From just two points gap after the Kwara victory, Lobi trailed Plateau by six points going into this game, though still in third place.

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With Plateau at home to Kwara, Lobi could have fallen farther backward if they failed to win this game.

Failure to pick maximum points here could also impact negatively on the quest to pick the second Champions League ticket.

Lobi had ran neck-to-neck with Plateau for most of the season but due to the poor run in the two Matchdays before this one, they trailed Rivers United by two points.

So for the hosts, this was a must-win game.

But against mid-table FCIU basking in the euphoria of victory over Dakadda on Matchday 24, it was not going to be a tea party. It was even dicier considering that Lobi had drawn their last two home matches before this one.

They needed to reinforce their home invincibility. This is the mood FCIU wouldn’t pray to visit Makurdi.

But on the flow of the game, the visitors deserved to take something home. A good indicator of how the game transpired was that the hosts never had a corner till the 48th minute. Meanwhile, by the end of the first half, the visitors had three.

Lobi profited from starting the game on the front foot. In the 5th minute, Samad Kadiri stooped to nod in Chigozie Obasi’s cross.

Four minutes later, Kadiri’s inch-perfect cross should have been buried in by Abdulwasiu Mahmud but he shot agonisingly wide.

The Pride of Benue would soon remove their feet from the pedal and the visitors took over the initiative and looked threatening for the larger part of the game.

In the 20th minute, FCIU’s lively forward Uche Onuoha zoomed in from the left, opened his body and curled just narrowly off target.

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Things were not going the hosts’ way with the visitors running riot in the middle of the park and coach Gbenga Ogunbote tried to arrest the tide with a 40th-minute introduction of Nzube Anaezemba for Yaya Kone.

Two minutes after coming on, Anaezemba stang Sharp Uzoigwe’s palms with a scorcher from the edge of the box.

At the restart, the visitors piled more pressure on the hosts. Just a minute after resumption, Chigozie Chilekwu’s dipping long-range shot was parried away by Emmanuel Daniel.

In the 51st minute, Christian Nnaji missed a golden opportunity to level up for FCIU. He beat the offside trap, came face-to-face with Daniel. The striker had ample time to pick his spot and hit target but the advancing goalkeeper made himself big, stretched a leg and kicked Nnaji’s shot into the corner.

Lobi could have made FCIU pay dearly for that miss, two minutes later. Uzoigwe bungled a free-kick presenting Carlos Galeya with a tap-in opportunity but the winger missed target.

FCIU were unrelenting and in the 72nd minute, Desmond Agbe had to clear Nnaji’s shot off the goal line.

The hosts deployed ultra-survival tendencies as the supercharged Anambra Warriors swarmed on them like bees. At some point, there was this feeling of déjà vu as Lobi’s fans feared a repeat of Pillars comeback in the last match at this venue.

The feeling was that if the boys could throw away a two-goal lead against Pillars, the solitary strike in this game was even more precarious. The visitors didn’t help matters as they threw the kitchen sink at their weary hosts.

In one desperate moment in the dying moments, Agbekpornu almost chested Samuel Kalu’s cross into his own net but luckily the ball wasn’t on target and went into the corner.

There were huge sighs of relief around the arena as the referee signalled the end of hostilities.

Kadiri’s early strike had proven enough for Lobi to retain top spot and stay within reach of Plateau United and Rivers United.

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