A professional performance in Calabar saw Enyimba record a comfortable 1-0 win over Kano Pillars, in a game billed as the biggest in the Nigeria Professional Football League.
Both teams have hoovered up 11 league titles between them since the turn of the 21st century, making them far and away the most successful Nigerian clubsides in that span. As such, meetings between Masu Gida and The People's Elephants have traditionally had major implications at the top of the table.
A further subplot was the sizable contingent of ex-Enyimba players in the Kano Pillars ranks. Former captain Chinedu Udoji is the pick of the bunch, but the likes of Idris Aloma, Bala Zakka, Kamal Sikiru, Razak Aliyu and Emmanuel Anyanwu have all played in blue in recent times.
On the day though, only the first three who were involved, and former Kano Pillars goalkeeper Theophilus Afelokhai was in goal for Enyimba as well. It was, however, not a happy reunion for the returning Enyimba alumni, as Mfon Udoh slotted home a penalty midway through the second half for secure all three points.
It was a result that, while fully merited, seemed in peril due to an improbable number of shots coming back off the woodwork. Ifeanyi Anaemena rattled the crossbar with a rasping effort from a corner in the 41st minute, and by the time Udoh cushioned a volley against the bar in the 67th, it was the fourth time already that the frame of the goal had denied Enyimba.
There was also some poor finishing to blame. Stanley Dimgba received the ball on the edge of the area in the 10th minute from Ibrahim Mustapha, but dragged his shot wide. The outcome was the same for Udoh seven minutes later, receiving from the same man but failing to test an uncertain Yusuf Muhammad in the Pillars goal.
The game turned undoubtedly in the 35th minute. A long ball saw both Anaemena and Junior Lokosa go up, but the Pillars striker inexplicably swung an elbow and caught the defender in the face. Referee Wale Adeniyi was in no doubt, producing a red card for that bit of dangerous play.
With the visitors down to 10, Enyimba seized the game by the scruff of the neck, and although the scores were level at half time, the seven-time league champions emerged for the second with greater urgency and impetus. Mustapha had two gilt-edged opportunities inside the opening 15 minutes, blasting over from close range after a free kick fell to him, before setting the crossbar wobbling with a thunderous drive from inside the box after a smart turn.
The winner eventually came in the 71st minute. Chima Akas' low cross was gathered in by Udoh in the box, before he was upended. The referee had a clear view, and pointed to the spot; the captain did the rest.
There were a number of chances to make it two, especially on the counter attack as Pillars committed men forward: Stephen Chukwude rounded the ‘keeper, only to see his effort from a tight angle cleared off the line, while Ugochukwu Leonard was unable to hit the target on two separate occasions, having been played in by Udoh.
A hard-fought, well-earned victory sees Enyimba remain in fourth place, a point behind Akwa United in third and eight points off the summit of the table.
Enyimba 1 (Mfon Udoh 72') 1-0 Kano Pillars
Enyimba Starting XI: Theophilus Afelokhai, Dare Ojo, Isiaka Oladuntoye, Ifeanyi Anaemena, Chima Akas, Kelly Kester, Ikechukwu Ibenegbu (Franco Atchou 82'), Stanley Dimgba (Stephen Chukwude 63'), Mfon Udoh, Chinonso Okonkwo (Ugochukwu Leonard 73'), Ibrahim Mustapha.
Unused substitutes: Fatau Dauda, Samson Gbadebo, Ikouwem Udoh, Lordson Ichull
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