As with the reverse meeting, there was late drama on Wednesday between Enyimba and Lobi Stars on Matchday 30 of the 2016/2017 Nigeria Professional Football League. Trailing for well over an hour, the People's Elephants struck twice in the final seven minutes of a tense encounter to turn the game on its head and keep their title hopes on track.
Coming into the tie on the back of a 1-0 defeat against FC Ifeanyi Ubah in Nnewi, it was clear that victory was non-negotiable. Any less than three points would see Enyimba's hopes of, at the very least, a continental place extinguished as the league enters its business end.
Coach Gbenga Ogunbote made two changes to the team that lost at the weekend, with Chinonso Okonkwo returning in place of the suspended Stephen Chukwude, and midfield dynamo Ikechukwu Ibenegbu coming back into the side.
Enyimba were immediately on offence from the kickoff, and almost caught out Lobi goalkeeper John Lawrence with a deep cross from Okonkwo inside the opening 10 minutes. The forward was at it again in the 13th; Lawrence spilled his shot, but recovered in time to smuggle away, with Ibrahim Mustapha poised to put away the rebound.
Against the run of play, Lobi Stars went into the lead in the 19th minute. An attack on the right looked to have broken down, but Kelly Kester's back pass was a tad short, allowing Anthony Okpotu to steal in and poke past the advancing Fatau Dauda and into the bottom corner.
It was a cruel blow, and it stunned Enyimba into action. Stanley Dimgba's measured cross found Okonkwo unmarked in the box, but he headed over. Ikouwem Udoh put in a trademark delivery on the overlap, culminating in a shot by Okonkwo, who was again thwarted by Lawrence.
Ibenegbu went close from a free kick, and Mustapha saw a volley saved, but ultimately the visitors' lead held going into the break. The onslaught continued in the second period, though there were some scary moments as Enyimba sought an equaliser; none more so than when Okpotu raced clear onto a delivery over the top, before firing over from just inside the penalty area. However, much of the attacking impetus seemed to be waning - Ikouwem was bright and busy, and both he and Dimgba saw deliveries following darting runs into the box curtailed.
Just when it looked like it would there would be tears and anguish come full time, the seven-time league champions got their leveller. There seemed little danger when the ball came flying into the box from wide, but Mfon Udoh smartly spun his marker, set himself, and volleyed into the corner to spark a possible comeback.
However, no one could have guessed what was to come. Two minutes from time, substitute Leonard Ugochukwu dribbled to the edge of the Lobi box, and was fouled. Up stepped Ibenegbu to, with the home crowd practically willing it, curl the ball past Lawrence and in, sparking wild scenes on the bench and in the stands.
The victory sees Enyimba move up to fourth on the table, behind Akwa United on goal difference, with 47 points from 30 games. Matchday 31 sees the People's Elephants travel to Ibadan to face Shooting Stars on Sunday.
Enyimba (Mfon Udoh 83', Ibenegbu 88') 2-1 Lobi Stars (Anthony Okpotu 19')
Enyimba Starting XI: Fatau Dauda, Andrew Abalogu, Isiaka Oladuntoye, Nelson Ogbonnaya, Ikouwem Udoh, Kelly Kester (Dare Ojo 63'), Ikechukwu Ibenegbu, Stanley Dimgba (Leonard Ugochukwu 81'), Chinonso Okonkwo (Maxwell Effiom 72'), Ibrahim Mustapha
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