Goals either side from half time from Guy Kuemian and Emeka Ogbugh proved decisive as Rivers United beat El Kanemi Warriors 2-1 in their opening game of the 2016/17 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) season.
Bello Kofamata struck for the visitors in the final minute of the game but it proved to be merely academic as the ‘Pride of Rivers’ overcame a late-fight back to hold on for a deserved win.
The win at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium, Port Harcourt on Sunday saw United continue their tradition of winning their opening game of every NPFL season they have competed in.
The home side opened the scoring in the 28th minute when Guy Kuemian rounded off a flowing team move, finishing Lukman Mohammed’s cross with aplomb after Bernard Ovoke did well to win the ball in midfield and start off the move.
Three minutes from time, substitutes, Bolaji Sakin and Emeka Ogbugh combined brilliantly to provide the second goal which put the game to bed.
Sakin played Ogbugh through with a delightful through ball and the attacker showed nerves of steel to finish past George Michael in the El Kanemi goal.
The visitors ensured there was a grand stand finish when Kofamata headed home a cross to send shivers down the spine of the home faithful.
United dominated both halves and could have romped to a bigger win but for profligacy of Kuemian, Bernard Ovoke, Lukman Mohammed and Ogbugh who all missed glorious opportunities to make goal scoring contributions.
The Warriors had their moments as well, particularly in the tenth minute when Haliru Hashimu failed to direct his header on target from close range when left unmarked in the penalty area.
El Kanemi’s head coach, Ladan Bosso surprisingly cut a positive figure after the contest, insisting that his charges lost to a better side.
“I am happy we did not lose by two or three goals. Losing 2-1 is not a bad result.
“Rivers United is a good team and they played better (than my team).
“They have great confidence from the (excellent) pre-season they had coupled with the Super 4 tournament which they won in Enugu.
“They have a better team and I say congratulations to Rivers United,” Bosso told assembled media after the game.
United’s technical manager, Stanley Eguma also spoke to the press after the game.
“We didn’t play badly. We were compact and created chances.
“Unfortunately, we lost a lot of the chances we created.
“However, it wasn’t really so much of a surprise as some of the boys are playing together in the league for the very first time.
“With time, they will get better and the standard will get better,” he said.
United will next travel to Uyo to face Akwa United on match day two of the NPFL on Wednesday.
Rivers United: Sunday Rotimi, Ifeanyi Nweke, Wassa Gabriel, Emeka Atuloma, Festus Austine, Ayobami Asekunowo, Nzube Anaezemba, Lukman Mohammed (Ogbugh Emeka 67’), Guy Kuemian Venance (Weli Christian 83’), Esosa Igbinoba and Ovoke Bernard (Bolaji Sakin 68’).
Substitutes not used: Femi Thomas, Gabriel Olalekan, Asamoah Godbless and Ojobo Markson.
El Kanemi Warriors: George Michael, Promise James, Tswanya Samuel, Aguda John, Ehis Kenneth, Yarhere Efe (Kofamata Bello 75’) , Mathias Samuel (Sunday Anthony 88’), Bashir Azado, Haliru Hashima (Aghoha Otakho) and Abraham Audu.
Substitutes nit used: Mohammed Usman, Alhaji Mohammed, Hussaini Mohammed, and Daniel Japhet
Rivers United: Ayobami Asekunowo (23’), Lukman Mohammed (30’), Nzube Anaezemba (60’) and Festus Austin (76’)
El Kanemi: Haliru Hashimu (34’)
Red cards: Nil
Rivers United: Kuemian (28’) and Ogbugh (87’)
El Kanemi Warriors: Kofamata (90’)