Uche Collins’ powerful header off James Ajako’s delivery from a corner kick in the 73rd minute gave Akwa United a crucial victory over neighbours Enyimba International on matchday 12 of the 2022-23 Nigeria Premier Football League at the Godswill Akwa International Stadium in Uyo.
The 1-0 win over Enyimba extended the Promise Keepers’ unbeaten run in the league to seven games. It propelled them to the second position in Group A with 22 points from 12 games, just four points behind leaders Bendel Insurance who stay top with 26 points.
Coach Ayodeji Ayeni’s team went into the game on the back of a 1-1 draw against Group A leaders Bendel Insurance in Benin while Enyimba arrived Uyo after picking just two points from a possible six at home against Bendel Insurance and Nasarawa United.
The two teams, currently chasing playoff spots in Group A marched each other toe-to-toe from the blast of the referee’s whistle with some brilliant display in which many goalscoring chances were created. Still, the two goalkeepers Jean Efala and Djeri Bassa were in their element to make some breathtaking saves while Ubong Friday’s low drive from a free kick crashed off the post as both teams ended the first-half goalless.
Coach Ayeni made two tactical changes early in the second half. Wisdom Fernando and Salomon Chigoziem were introduced and the duo gave their team the extra push they needed. Akwa United’s pressure finally paid off in the 73rd minute when striker Uche Collins directed James Ajako’s delightful cross from a corner beyond Djeri Bassa to give his team a deserved lead.
Efforts by Akwa United to increase their advantage were unsuccessful just as the visitors were unable to create anything special as they were kept at bay by a well-coordinated backline marshaled by James Ajako, Wisdom Ndon, Abbey Benson, and Taiye Muritala.
Coach Ayeni threw Osimaga Duke, Victor Ifiok, and Liman Ahmadu into the game replacing Taiye Muritala, Cyril Olisema, and Ubong Friday. They did just enough to protect their goal and secure the maximum points.
Coach Ayeni in a post-match press conference admitted that he expected a tough game from Enyimba. ‘’Akwa United versus Enyimba is always a tough game and we didn’t expect an easy game. Having dropped points at home, they came here to try and get point(s), so we prepared tactically, psychologically, and physically. We were able to play our pattern, and the boys were able to interpret my instructions. The changes we made in the second half gave us victory because we needed to attack more.
‘’ We are in the second position but it’s not yet Uhuru because we still have some matches to go, so we have to work and take it one game at a time. Now we have to celebrate this victory and turn our attention to the next game against Nasarawa United this weekend while our ultimate target is to make it to the playoffs at the end of the season’’.
Head coach of Enyimba Finidi George said his team switched off at the crucial moment and maintained that the game was a good match for both sides.
‘’It was a fairly balanced game but at the end of the day we didn’t pay attention to those little details and we suffer the consequences. I think my boys did well, maybe we didn’t push hard enough, especially in the first half.
‘’Football is all about results and if you don’t get a positive result it’s like you are not doing anything so today we could not get the result we wanted but that is football for you, all we have to do now is to keep working while hoping to get it right in our next game’’.
Akwa United will remain at home this weekend to face Nasarawa United while Enyimba will play host to Plateau United in Aba on matchday 13.