Plucky Sunshine Stars put up a defensive masterclass on Sunday to shut out Rivers United in a largely one-sided Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) contest decided at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium, Port Harcourt.
The game finished 0-0.
Rivers United’s goalkeeper, Emeka Nwabulu was largely on holiday to all game long but a combination of profligacy, ill-luck and great goalkeeping the Stars’ goalkeeper, Moses Ocheje meant the “Pride of Rivers” failed to amass maximum points at home for the fourth time this season.
United should have opened the scoring in the 19th minute when Oche Salefu found himself unmarked in the Sunshine Stars penalty area but he somehow miscued what should have been a straightforward tap in from two yards out.
Seconds later, flying winger, Bernard Ovoke placed a header wide from eight yards with just Ocheje at his mercy.
Sunshine Stars were reeling as United stepped on the accelerator in search of the breakthrough.
With the visitors retreating, the hosts could smell blood and honed in for the kill but Ovoke, again, fluffed his lines when a golden opportunity was presented to him just inside the visitors’ box in the 22nd minute.
It was one way traffic with Emeka Atuloma and Weli Christian both firing wide as the first half came to a close giving Rivers United what would have represented a deserved first half advantage.
Sunshine Stars had just one shot on target in the opening period – a 35 yard free kick by Dayo Ojo which was never going to trouble Nwabulu in the United goal.
The second half was played predominantly in the visitors’ half as wave after wave of United attack was repelled in impressive fashion by the relegation-haunted Stars.
Musa Newman had a feeble effort saved by Ocheje in the 50th minute while big forward, Osita Chikere shockingly missed a sitter from barely a yard out with the home faithful looking on in disbelief.
The ‘Owena Waves’ continued to ride their luck when Newman seemed to have taken full advantage of a rare defensive slip up in the 66th minute but he inexplicably failed to make a decent connection with a gaping goal at his mercy.
It was an extraordinary miss that encapsulated the script of the game.
Markson Ojobo thought he had won the game for the hosts late on with a fine individual effort watched in agony as his fine curling strike cannoned back into play after hitting the inside of the post.
Caretaker coach of Sunshine Stars, Henry Abiodun admitted afterwards that his side benefited from a huge slice of luck while also praising his charges for carrying out their pre match game plan to perfection.
“The game (of football) is about two phases, offence and defence (and) today (Sunday), we came to defend,” Abiodun said at the post match press conference.
The Rivers United technical manager, Stanley Eguma was understandably crestfallen as he voiced his post match sentiments in an exclusive chat with our official website, www.riversunitedfc.com.ng.
“We played well and had so many chances but the ball would just not go in today,” he said.
Rivers United now sit in eighth place on the NPFL standings with 33 points from 23 matches while Sunshine Stars are in 19th place with 25 points from 23 matches.