Osita Chikere and Emeka Ogbugh struck in the first half as Rivers United beat Niger Tornadoes 2-0 in a keenly-fought Nigeria Professional Football League contest decided in Port Harcourt on Sunday.
Chiekere headed home an expertly-delivered Bernard Ovoke corner 17 minutes into the game to give the Pride of Rivers a deserved lead at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium.
Ogbugh, making his season’s debut after helping Nigeria to a second-placed finish at the 2018 Africa Nations Championship in Morocco, curled home an exquisite free kick just before the half hour to give the Port Harcourt club a commanding lead going into the break.
The Rivers United technical manager, Stanley Eguma, made five changes to the side that lost 0-1 to Yobe Desert Stars on match day eight and the end product was satisfactory.
Bello Ikeleji, Koffi Roland, Christian Weli, Sunday Afolabi and Malachi Ohawume made way for Ogbugh, Ovoke, Ochowechi ‘Oche’ Salefu, Gbadebo Samson and Bakari Bamba and the new entrants subsequently repaid the gaffer’s trust in their abilities.
Ovoke’s lively dribbling won the corner that led to United’s first goal and he took the set piece himself before Ogbugh showed the home fans what they had been missing following his absence occasioned by national commitments.
His fierce free kick, hit with venom from 30 odd yards flew into the corner with laser-like accuracy, underlying his ability to strike a pin head from range.
Tornadoes, aesthetic in fits and starts, had their moments too, most notably in the 55th minute when Eric Frimpong beat the United offside trap to the consternation of the home faithful.
The attacker however made the wrong decision at the opportune moment, firing straight at Rivers United goalkeeper, Sunday Rotimi who made himself big and narrowed the angle and made a fine save in exemplary fashion.
United, in fairness should have scored more in the second half but missed a plethora of chances to add some gloss to the eventual score line.
Ogbugh fired a rocket inches wide after he was teed up brilliantly by Salefu in the 66th minute with Aliko Mustapha, the Tornadoes goalkeeper beaten at his near post.
Salefu also came close to scoring on a second consecutive home game but watched in frustration as his sweetly-struck goal bound strike was headed out heroically by Tornadoes defender, Rueben Ogbonnaya.
Guy Kuemian, United’s top scorer this term, curled a beautiful effort just wide from the edge of the area in stoppage time as the hosts held out for a richly-deserved win.
It was a good day in the office for United and Eguma expressed satisfaction afterwards in the post-match presser.
“This (victory) is a sign of good things to come. There is (an) improvement (in the team’s play) as we scored twice and missed so many other (scoring opportunities).
“Creating chances have never been a problem for us; it is our ability to put those chances away that have always been the issue.
“It happens in the home and away matches but I am happy that we were able to convert two today and I am optimistic that we will do better in subsequent games,” he said.
Head coach of Tornadoes, Ersamus Onu and club captain, Aliko also voiced their post-match sentiments (audio files have been attached) after the richly-entertaining contest.
The win saw United climb to the top half of the table as they now occupy ninth spot on the log with 13 points from nine matches, three points adrift of the leaders, Akwa United who have a game in hand.
Tornadoes remain in the relegation zone (they are bottom of the 20-team log) having amassed nine points from their opening nine games of the season.