Two-Time Nigeria Federation Cup Champions Akwa United are through to the Super-Six play-off of the 2018/2019 Nigeria Professional Football League season despite losing their Matchday 20 to Delta Force in Asaba on Thursday.
A goal in each half by Christian Ekong and Iwuala Anayo helped Delta Force to a 2-1 win at the Stephen Keshi Stadium but the Promise Keepers book their place in the Super-Six play-off with two games to spare, after accumulating 37 points from 20 games.
League top scorer Mfon Udoh came off the bench to net Akwa United’s only goal of the game and his tenth of the season, when he calmly converted a spot kick after Aniefiok Godspower was brought down in the box by Sochima Victor.
Both sides began the game in a cautious note but it was the hosts that went in front inside the opening fifteen minutes when Christian Ekong beat the offside trap to fire home from close range.
The league leaders had a great chance to level up the scores few minutes later. Alberico Da Silva delivered a delightful diagonal pass to Ndifreke Effiong, the striker then lashed on to it and volley from outside the box but his effort went wide.
The Promise Keepers had two more chances which Alberico Da Silva and Ndifreke Effiong couldn’t bury for their side. Meanwhile, Ojo Olorunleke was in his element as he produced a brilliant one-handed save to keep out Iwuala Anayo’s acrobatic effort from a long throw-in.
Shortly after the restart, Iwuala Anayo and Denis Nya battle for possession in the box and the striker tumbled to the ground and the referee awarded a controversial penalty to the home team much to the surprise of the spectators. Ojo Olorunleke dived low to punch Christian Ekong’s spot kick but Anayo reacted quicker to tuck in the rebound as the hosts doubled their advantage.
Coach Rafael Everton threw league top scorer Mfon Udoh and pacy winger Wisdom Fernando into the fray and the duo turned on the heat on the home side.
An Akwa United goal always seemed likely and, when it arrived, it was their 29th goal of the season. Ndifreke Effiong cut through Delta Force midfield and freed Aniefiok Godspower but the midfielder was fouled in the box by goalkeeper Sochima Victor.
The referee awarded a penalty to Akwa United. Striker Mfon Udoh took the responsibility and dispatched it splendidly to pull a goal back for his side with his tenth goal of the season.
The Promise Keepers grew into the game and dominated against a shaky Delta Force defence. They battled hard and, in a feisty encounter, three Akwa United players Aniefiok Godspower and Alberico Da Silva received yellow cards while Markson Ojobo was sent off from the bench for urging one of the ball boys to give a ball to his team-mates.
There was still time for Delta Forces’ Egbo Otukhe to be red carded after the midfielder launched a dangerous challenge on Denis Nya which left the defender with a bloody nose.
Deep in to stoppage time, Wisdom Fernando crack open a space in the hosts defence and freed Mfon Udoh. The striker fired in a low shot which Delta Force goalkeeper spilled before recovering to gather as the game ended in favour of the home side.
The Promise Keepers will next host neighbors Abia Warriors on Sunday while Delta Force will travel to Kano for a date with Kano Pillars.