Timilehin Oluwadare, Lagos
Junior Lokosa’s expertly-taken goal, four minutes after the restart, earned Kano Pillars a point against Rivers United in a feisty, entertaining 1-1 draw in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) at the weekend.
Osita Chikere had put the visitors ahead early in the first half with a goal of equally extravagant quality as he rose highest in the Pillars box to head home Markson Ojobo’s perfect cross.
Either side could have claimed maximum points as they traded chances in a wonderfully-open contest but a point seemed a fair result in the end.
Technical manager of Rivers United, Stanley Eguma sounded bullish in his pre-match notes as he stated that his charges would be gunning for an outright victory at the Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano following the disappointing stalemate against Sunshine Stars in Port Harcourt seven days earlier.
True to the trainer’s words, United started with purpose after weathering an early Pillars storm which saw the impressive goalkeeper, Emeka Nwabulu deny Nzube Anaezemba and Rabiu Ali, the latter, in spectacular fashion on eight and 11 minutes respectively.
Osita then put the visitors in front with their first real attack of the game, producing a thumping header off an Ojobo cross which was deft as it was precise.
Pillars, predictably, poured forward in search of a leveller but met the United defence and particularly Nwabulu, in fine form.
The goalkeeper produced fine reflexes to push Rabiu Ali’s scorching goal-bound free kick away for a corner in the 16th minute before playing ‘sweeper-keeper’ four minutes later to deny Lokosa a certain goal.
Pillars continued to look the more dangerous of the two sides and nearly drew level in deserved fashion shortly before the half hour.
Anaezemba, on the books of United last term, almost made his former paymasters regret letting him go when he displayed remarkable upper body strength shake off the challenge of Ojobo but faced with just Nwabulu in the United goal, he fired wide from 16 yards.
It was a shocking miss that they hosts were almost made to rue as United almost took a two-goal lead five minutes before the break in the most fortuitous of circumstances when Joel Djondang inexplicably intercepted a cross with little danger lurking.
His heavy touch left the Pillars goalkeeper, Yusuf Mohammed badly wrong footed but the ball ricocheted off the base of the post, much to the relief of the home faithful.
Buoyed by that lucky escape, the hosts pushed forward in numbers but were denied the equalizer by Nwabulu yet again as the United goalkeeper produced yet another extraordinary save to deny Ali whose deftly-struck free kick seemed destined for the bottom corner,
Pillars thought they had finally equalized in first half stoppage time as Ali’s flick cannoned off the cross bar and the post as the visiting fans heaved a collective sigh of relief.
It was a first half that ebbed and flowed but the second period matched it in entertainment value as the few neutrals in attendance lapped up a compelling spectacle at a rocking Sani Abacha Stadium.
Pillars were level just minutes after the interval following an uncharacteristic piece of sloppy defending from the United rear guard.
Lokosa is a Man to be feared but United’s defenders appeared not to have read the script, leaving the league’s top marksman in acres of space four minutes after the break.
Nyima Nwagua threaded a delightful through ball to the forward who dispatched with ice-cold composure to level the score and the home fans into fits of hysteria.
It was his 19th goal of the season and he could have easily scored at least two more but for some uncharacteristically sloppy finishing as the game drew to a close.
First on 68 minutes when he inexplicably headed wide, unmarked in the six yard box with just Nwabulu at his mercy and then six minutes from time when he blasted into Orbit, eight yards away from goal.
Pillars dominated the second half and could have scored more than the solitary strike they managed especially after Nwagua shot wide from six yards after Lokosa had evened the scores.
Nwabulu underlined his status as one of the finest shot stoppers in the division when he denied Ali from 25-yards when the veteran fired a fine free kick that had ‘goal’ written all over it.
It was a save of extraordinary quality, not quite unlike Gordon Banks’ flying stop to deny Edson Arantes de Nascimento ‘Pele’ at the Fifa World Cup finals in Mexico in 1970.
Oche Salefu and Chikere had gilt-edged chances for the visitors who were reduced to ten men in the 80th minute after Musa Newman was dismissed for a second bookable offence.
The ‘Pride of Rivers’ were not to be denied though as heroic defending saw them claim a share of the spoils against a crest fallen Sai Masu Gida.
Lokosa voiced his sentiments after the contest as he spoke exclusively with our official website, www.riversunitedfc.com.ng.
“We (Kano Pillars) just have to keep pushing hard to get good results. It is difficult to draw at home but we are aiming to win the league title but it (this result) is now in the past,” he said.
Technical manager of United, Stanley Eguma also spoke to Rivers United media after the pulsating contest.
“It is a good result but we planned to win after dropping points at home to Sunshine Stars in our last game at home.
“We showed character after one of our players got a Red card and I give kudos to the boys,” he said.
Pillars now sit in third place on the NPFL log with 38 points from 24 matches while United remain in the top half of the table.
The Port Harcourt club has amassed 34 points from 24 matches and occupy ninth place in the classification.
Timilehin Oluwadare, Lagos