By Alfred Okoligwe
Akwa United’s push for a second consecutive season on the continent suffered a setback in Ibadan where Shooting Stars made the most of their home ground to brighten their chances of staying in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) next season. It ended 1-0 in favour of the Oluyole Warriors, leaving the Promise Keepers one point adrift of fellow continental contenders, Enyimba International that secured a valuable point away to Rangers.
The Ibadan lords knew that only a win over the continental-chasing Akwa United will boost their quest to remain in Nigerian top flight.
The first half was tightly contested as both teams gave little away to the opposition. Abu Azeez registered the first shot on goal as early as the second minute to test Ismaila Shagari in goal for the visitors. Wasiu Jimoh tried his luck two minutes later but Akwa United were not ready to shift their ground.
Shooting Stars should have been a goal up by the 10th minute. A well threaded pass from Ayobami Junior needed the right touch from Wasiu but the striker could not deliver the goods at a time Akwa United back line was almost caught napping.
Akwa United appeared satisfied with playing the waiting game, seeking to go on the counter but allowing the home team to control possession. The approach nearly yielded in the 17th minute when Gabriel Okechukwu was played on to a one-on-one battle with goalkeeper Adamu Abubakar. Again, Shooting Stars created a chance of their own three minutes later. Abu Azeez thought he was through on goal, but his advance was effectively policed by Godspower Igudia. Both players had a running battle all evening.
The first half ended goalless.
Shooting Stars upped the ante in the second half as the search for the first goal of the game intensified. Otobong Effiong was the first player to be cautioned as his late challenge on Ayobami Junior earned him a place in the referee’s book.
Wasiu then began having a torrid time in the game as things were not going his way. A golden opportunity would be presented to him to redeem himself as he was set up by Abu Azeez in the 67th minute. His shot from just outside the box was wasted, rising just too high. Shooting Stars coach Fatai Amao had to bring in Junior Merenini in his place.
The visitors had a second chance at scoring in the 75th minute with Okechukwu and Musa Newman running rings around Shooting Starts defence. A last ditch Alaba Osawe interception was the saving grace.
A few seconds later, Akwa United went down to 10 men. Okechukwu received a straight red after his punch on Jide Apena who was trying to block a ball was spotted by the referee.
Shooting Stars seized the initiative and threw men forward as they strived to pick the maximum points. It eventually arrived with 10 minutes to the end as a pullout from Azeez was adjudged to have been handled in the box by Ifeanyi Ifeanyi, a second half substitute.
Captain Seun Akinyemi made no mistake from the spot as the cheers that greeted the goal almost rbought down the Lekan Salami Stadium roof.
With a game to go this season, the Oluyole Warriors have amassed 50 points and are currently in 16th on the log. A positive result against Niger Tornadoes in Lokoja on the final day of the season will help their course to remain in the NPFL.