Ten man Akwa United secured their second away win of the 2017/2018 Nigeria Professional Football League season with a well deserved victory over relegation threatened Yobe Desert Stars at the August 27th Stadium in Damaturu on Sunday afternoon.
Midfielder Michael Ibe netted the decisive goal in the second half for the Promise Keepers in a match which saw defender Ayobami Asekunowo sent off on his debut, as they closed the gap on leaders Lobi Stars to two points on top of the NPFL table.
Coach Abdu Maikaba whose team had recored three consecutive wins, went into the game aiming to do the double over the North Eastern team whom they beat 2-0 in Uyo early in the season.
The Coach made five changes to the team that defeated Niger Tornadoes in Uyo last weekend. Defender Ayobami Asekunowo made his debut while youngster Etboy Akpan was preferred at right back. Jamiu Alimi, Ezekiel Bassey and Victor Mbaoma were all listed in the starting line up.
Yobe Stars and Akwa United tussled for dominance in the opening exchanges on a bumpy pitch but struggled to create any meaningful chance in the first half.
The home side had many opportunities to open scoring from the many freekicks they had in promising positions but were unable to capitalize on them.
The two goalkeepers Ojo Olorunleke and Itodor Ako were virtually on holiday as they were rarely troubled. In the closing stages of the first half, Akwa United were reduced to ten men after Ayobami Asekunowo was shown a second yellow card and sent off as both teams went into the break on level terms.
On resumption of play, the home side thought they had taken the lead when Samuel Agba tapped the ball into the back of the net but he did so in an offside position which was rightly spotted by the assistant referee.
Ubong Friday who replaced injured Ezekiel Bassey in the first half appeared to have beaten the offside trap in the 64th minute and directed his effort beyond Ako only for it to be disallowed for an offside.
Despite the numerical disadvantage, the Promise Keepers dominated and controlled the game with Paul Obata, Michael Ibe and Kelly Kester pinning the home side in their own half.
The deadlock was however broken in the 76th minute when substitute Etim Mathew made a surging run forward and delivered a delightful ball into Yobe Stars’s box. An unmarked Michael Ibe calmly controlled the ball and neatly beat Ako in goal to give his team the deserved lead with his fifth league goal of the season.
The Uyo based side nearly doubled their advantage minutes later after Kester tried to pick out Ubong Friday with a long ball but Ako was quick off his lines to deny the winger.
With defeat staring the home side in the face, they pushed for an equalizer and manage to create four good chances inside the last ten minutes of the game but Ojo Olorunleke was in his right elements and pull off three outstanding Man-of-the-Match saves to frustrate Yobe Stars as Akwa United held on to record their second away victory of the season and condemn Yobe stars to their first home defeat of the season.
With the win, the Promise Keepers have 41 points from 24 matches with 14 matches till the end of the season. They remain two points behind leaders Lobi Stars as the NPFL head into the FIFA World Cup break.