CLUB NEWS

Okpotu nets third hat-trick of season to help Lobi edge El-Kanemi

By Onukogu Kanyochuqu Jubal

One of the Nigeria Professional Football League's sharpshooters, Anthony Okpotu, scored thrice for Lobi to edge El-Kanemi Warriors 3-2 in a Matchday 35 encounter at the Aper Aku Stadium on Sunday.

Though El-Kanemi Warriors came close to doing much damage in the latter stages of the game – no thanks to Lobi’s shabby defending – the game began with the hosts showing their intent and running at their gob-smacked foes.

In the third minute, Ebube Duru, who would later leave the pitch to a standing ovation, beat his marker at the edge of the El-Kanemi’s goal, before whipping a cross in, but the enterprising Michael George stepped out and scooped it.

 

Three minutes later, it was man of the match, Sunday Akleche, who bore through the visitors’ defence and found Tony Okpotu, whose nod was tipped away by Michael.

From then on, Akleche zipped across the pitch, changing wings and switching play, causing untold trouble for El-Kanemi’s backline of Samuel Tswanya, Chibuzor Okonkwo and Lucky Erimuya.

In the 11th minute, Lobi finally wore down El-Kanemi’s defence, when Okpotu danced with a defender, before finding space to tuck into a corner of the distracted Michael’s goal, to give his side the lead.

Akleche was at it again four minutes later, when his through-pass found Okpotu, whose touch was less than perfect.

Two minutes later, he found Okpotu again, only for the goalscorer to shoot too high.

However, in the 20th minute, Solomon Kwambe got involved when he scooped up a pass from Akleche, swept his marker aside and found Okpotu to the far right of Michael’s goal. The hapless keeper could only stare as the ball sailed beyond him to Okpotu, who smashed it in, with his inner foot, to double his strike and make it 2-0 for his side.

In the 24th minute, Akleche would have made it three, when he swapped wings again, cheated his marker again and would have whipped it in, but for Kofarmata's interference.

Two minutes later, it was El-Kanemi’s turn, as Kofarmata ran at the Lobi defence, who seemed to give way for him, before letting fly a screaming shot which Lawrence smothered.

In the 31st minute, the visitors came calling again through Isiaka Olawale, when the captain of the Beach Eagles attended to Tswanya’s cross with a flying effort, which was accompanied a few inches off the side net with the gasp of the home fans.

The visitors’ effort finally paid off when, in the second minute of added time in the first half, Chibuzor Okonkwo raced past his marker on the far right, before lobbing a cross which fell to Abraham Audu, who found an angle to tuck into, while a frozen Lawrence just watched on.

Lobi made it 3-1 just upon resumption of play. Okpotu scooped up a loose ball from a bewildered El-Kanemi’s defender, looked up and buried it behind a despairing Michael, to score his 17th goal of the season.

Many thought it would get worse for the visitors when, a minute later, Okonkwo got his marching orders for foul comment at the centre referee.

Akleche continued his sudden, fruitful bursts, as he ran with a constantly gasping El-Kanemi’s backline, getting the better of them everytime he had the ball at his feet.

In the 62nd minute, he went in search of a goal to cap his day, when he collected Ebube’s pass and shot straight at goal, but it went a few inches wide.

In the 73rd minute, Akleche played with Ebube twice in a minute and would have made it count, but for the smart reflexes of Michael, who ensured one effort ended in his hands and the other was tipped over.

But the visitors became more audacious as the game wore on.

Efe Yarhere dribbled his markers from the centre of the pitch and, just on the edge of the box, let off a goal-bound shot that was deflected off the body of Iorliam Gwaza.

Finally, four minutes from time, in the 86th minute, the visitors took advantage of lax defending and found Ibrahim Babangida, who raced to the far right and, after beating marker after marker, arched his body to shoot low past Lawrence.

The handler of El-Kanemi Warriors, Ladan Bosso, was his usual chatty self after the game and gave kudos to the victors.

“I liked the way my lads came into the game twice, albeit late, but Lobi were good on the ball and they used their opportunities well.

“They are worthy winners, irrespective of whatever happened today. However, the way my lads picked up the pace after some time showed that if you score Lobi and remain on top, you can win.

“We just a need to fix a few things which I will not disclose to you, but you will see them working better in the next game,” he assured.

Lobi coach, Solomon Ogbeide, regretted that his side had not been clinical as they were in the game, but was glad his lads had redeemed themselves before their fans after the ignominious defeat last weekend, in the hands of Abia Warriors.

“This season is over and, even though we gave it our best shot. We did not do badly. We will get better, but, from here on, we will focus on the Aiteo Cup. This does not mean that we’ll go to sleep over the next four games. No. We will give it all we got, but we want to do something this season and it would have to be the Aiteo Cup,” he said.

Man of the match, Akleche, could only gush over his contributions to the win.

“To be honest, when the game started, I just wanted to help the team win and that was what you saw.

“We played for each other and what you saw me doing was a product of team work. You get the ball, give it to the next person or hold it until he is free. That was how we got the three goals, by holding on to the ball, but I thank the fans and the coaching crew for their support and belief. They are wonderful,” Akleche said.

Though he did confess to being surprised at not getting a call for any of the national teams (CHAN and Super Eagles), he was confident that all was not lost yet.

“There are more seasons and there are more games for me to prove myself and show what can be done for the national teams,” the pint-sized playmaker said.

Line-ups

El-Kanemi Warriors: George Michael 1; Chibuzor Okonkwo 7, Tswanya Samuel 13, Suleiman Dori 12, Lucky Erimuya 6, Tchoanfine Pade 33, Isiaka Olawale 28, Bello Kofarmata 17, Ibrahim Babangida 18, Hashimu Haliru 25, Abraham Audu 10

Substitutes: Usman Mohammed 23, Alhaji Mohammed 20, Emmanuel Ajia 14, Sunday Anthony 37, Hussaini Bata 11, Efe Yarhere 26, Mohammed Hussaini 34

Coach: Ladan Bosso

Lobi Stars: John Lawrence 16; Solomon Kwambe 18, Ebube Duru 40, Akpojuvwevo Bright 26, Nya Dennis 6, Iorliam Gwaza 3, Sunday Akleche 7, Akor Isah-Umaru 33, Okpotu Anthony 11, David Tyavkase 10, Mbah Ezekiel 12

Substitutes: Okiemute Odah 30, Bunde Moses 2, Shehu Nasiru 31, Otekpa Eneji 21, Itodo Cletus 8, Samad Kadiri 23, Uchenna Eze 15

Coach: Solomon Ogbeide

Statistics
Lobi Stars 3-2 El-Kanemi Warriors
Fouls: 5-9
Throw-ins: 16-19
Shots on: 5-4
Shots off: 10-6
Corners: 3-4
Offsides: 3-2

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