Enugu Rangers set to break 32-year Nigerian league jinx
• Beat Ikorodu United 2-1
The chant ‘Holy! Holy!! Holy!!! Enugu Rangers is another champion,’ broke out at the M.K.O Abiola Stadium, Abeokuta, yesterday when centre referee, Tivkor Thomas from Benue State, signaled the end of the much-awaited Nigerian Professional League (NPFL) game between hosts, Ikorodu United and Enugu Rangers.
It was a whistle that signaled the beginning of the end of a 32-year long wait by fans of the Flying Antelopes for a league title and the first since the Nigerian game became professional.
Rangers, though, still have to secure a point at home from their game against El Kanemi next weekend to formally take the title.
Many people at the stadium were not yet born when Ikechukwu Ofoje led Charles Okonkwo, Ifeanyi Onyedika, Chimezie Nwanaga, Ben Ugwu, Patrick Okala, Amaechi Otti, Louis Igwillo, Okwuchukwu Obiora, Kingsley Onye and Justus Ewendu, among others, to lift the most coveted trophy in Nigerian football.
But they all joined in saluting the new champions, whose road to the trophy was paved by the youngest coach ever to train Enugu Rangers.
At the beginning of the competition, not many pundits gave the Imama Amakapabo-tutored Flying Antelopes much chance of success at the end because of the stranglehold defending champions, Enyimba and Kano Pillars had on the title. But in Abeokuta yesterday, all rose in unison to salute a worthy champion.
Rangers beat hosts, Ikorodu United, 2-1 to raise to an unassailable 60 points from 35 matches, but at a point in the game the dream was hanging on the balance following spirited attempts by the hosts to rock the boat.
Rangers closest rivals, Rivers United, failed to beat Abia Warriors in Port Harcourt to make for a testy grand finale next weekend, while Wikki Tourists went one worse by losing to Shooting Stars 0-1 in Ibadan.
Yesterday’s games saw FC Ifeanyi Ubah moving to the third position following their 1-0 defeat of outgoing champions, Enyimba, in Nnewi.
Enugu Rangers raced to the lead in Abeokuta on the 26th minute off a sumptuous chip by Obinna Nwobodo, who saw that Ikorodu United goalkeeper was off his line and sent the ball to the net.
He ensured it became 2-0 in the 39th minute when he crossed for Chisom Egbuchulam to prod home.
What looked like a third Rangers’ goal in the second half through Egbuchulam was discounted by Referee Thomas, who ruled that Bobby Clement was offside when he helped it in. And then the drama began.
As if he was sent to ensure that Rangers supporters’ heartbeat soared above the normal range, Paul Duke reduced the tally from a tight angle; a goal, which ordinarily he had no right to score. It was a magical goal that made for a tense ending to the game.
Fortunately for Rangers’ supporters, the homers could not muster another goal after Duke’s heroics.
Rangers will host El Kanemi in Enugu next week in a game, which will present their supporters, who did not witness yesterday’s game live, the opportunity to join in the dancing and singing.
Rangers’ result was made the more sweeter for their fans when news filtered in that second placed Rivers United failed to win at home for only the second time this season. The newly formed club were held to a goalless draw by relegation threatened Abia Warriors who had a former Dolphins star, Chizoba Amaefule captaining them on the day.
In Ibadan, Shooting Stars Sports Club (3SC) secured top flight status for a third successive year after Samuel Olabisi’s 51st minute header gave them a 1-0 win over Wikki Tourists of Bauchi.
Another team that guaranteed themselves of a further stay in the NPFL was Niger Tornadoes, who dispatched MFM FC 3-1 at the Confluence Stadium in Lokoja.
In Akure, 10-man Warri Wolves dropped deeper into the mess after a narrow loss at Sunshine Stars of Akure, just as Heartland beat Kano Pillars 1-0.
In other results, El-Kanemi Warriors beat Plateau United 1-0, while Nasarawa United held visiting Akwa United to a 2-2 draw at the Aper Aku Stadium in Makurdi.
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