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Plateau United coach Kennedy Boboye’s return to Umuahia ended in a painful defeat after Shedrack Asiegbu scored twice, including a stoppage time winner to give Abia Warriors a 2-1 win over the league leaders on Sunday.
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Asiegbu gave the hosts an early lead through a brilliantly executed left-footed volley from 25 yards. The visitors equalized against the run of play ten minutes from time through Hamzat Owolabi’s deflected effort but Asiegbu ensured Boboye and his wards go home empty handed by converting a penalty deep into stoppage time.
Boboye who left his post as Abia Warriors coach after Matchday 29 last season led his high-flying wards who continue to revel in a surreal leadership position in the NPFL to Abia Warriors who were without a win in their last three league games. The former Sunshine Stars coach made a change to his team by reintroducing centre back Salomon Junior with midfielder Lazarus Fan making way.
Warriors who had scored just once in their last three league games were without full back Ozor Chinedu and coach Abdullahi Usman-Biffo made three changes to the side, replacing the suspended Ozor with winger Anthony Okemmiri while Uche Ihuarulam started alongside geam’s top scorer Sunday Adetunji.
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Both Adetunji and Ihuarulam combined to create the game’s first real chance in the 7th minute when the duo exchanged passes inside the box after a chipped pass by Asiegbu. Adetunji’s return ball saw Ihuarulam face-to-face with Plateau United goalkeeper Dele Ajiboye who stayed firm to beat out Ihuarulam’s effort from point blank range.
The hosts went in front four minutes later via a moment of sheer brilliance by Warriors central midfielder Asiegbu. United defender Salomon Junior thought he had cleared danger with a defensive header but Asiegbu, with his back to goal controlled the ball on his chest and hit a ferocious volley on the turn which sailed through to the top corner, going in through the inside of the post.
While the goal was a beauty to watch and a sure contender for the goal of the season, Warriors fans were not oblivious of the threat posed by Plateau United’s long throw merchant Daniel Itodo and with the presence of one of the tallest stars in the league Emeka Umeh upfront for United, it was always going to be a tough battle for Warriors’ defenders.
Umeh almost equalized for the visitors just two minutes after Asiegbu’s opener when he found himself unmarked at the end of an Itodo long throw. His well placed header drew a good save from Warriors goalkeeper Moses Ocheje.
Warriors almost doubled their advantage on 26 minutes when Asiegbu thread a pass through to Uche Ihuarulam. The striker beat his former Bayelsa United teammate Salomon Junior for pace before squaring for Adetunji who narrowly failed to make a connection with the ball.
The hosts were dealt a blow just after the hour mark when attacker Yakub Hammed went off after a head collision with teammate Abiodun Adebayo. His place was taken by Chimezie Amanfor, Warriors goalscorer in their last league outing at Enyimba.
Emeka Umeh then missed a very good chance for the visitors ten minutes before the interval. The experienced Kabiru Umar flicked a punt up field to him and despite staying strong to hold-off his marker, Umeh sliced his effort over from just 8 yards.
It became a competition of misses between Warriors forward Sunday Adetunji and Plateau’s Umeh early in the second half.
Four minutes into the half, the former beat a badly set offside trap by the visitors but could not hit the target with his effort from an acute angle. The latter then followed it up a minute later when Umar flicked another long throw by Daniel Itodo to him, but his easy header from 6 yards went over.
Boboye seemed to have had enough of Umeh’s misses and he replaced the lanky star with Hamzat Owolabi on 55 minutes. The substitution turned out to be an inspired one by the former Sunshine Stars head coach as Owolabi it was that would later restore parity for his side.
United were however dealt a blow in the second half after centre back Salomon Junior succumbed to injury after twice taking lengthy treatments to an injured thigh. He was replaced by Obasi Okoro on 71 minutes.
Undaunted by the set-backs, Plateau equalized against the run of play after another Daniel Itodo throw-in. This time, a Warriors defender headed clear but the ball fell kindly for Owolabi whose volley from 16 yards ricocheted off Arinze Nwangwu and wrong footed Ocheje to bring the scores to 1-1 with ten minutes plus stoppage time left.
Not giving up, Abia Warriors stepped it up again and Ihuarulam somehow failed to score from four yards after Ajiboye mishandled Emeka Isaac’s free kick. The ball slipped through the goalkeeper’s fingers and came off the cross bar but Ihuarulam headed wide while faced with a gaping net.
With six minutes of added time signaled by the reserve referee, the winner eventually came deep into stoppage time when United full back Hamisu Saleh mistimed his tackle on substitute Sherif Bashir just inside the penalty box, leaving the referee with no other choice than to point to the spot.
There were protestations expectedly by the visitors but If there was anyone on the pitch to take the responsibility of taking such an important spot kick, it had to be the strong-willed Asiegbu. He stepped up, kept his composure, picked his spot and sent Ajiboye the wrong direction to send the home fans into a frenzy.
ABIA WARRIORS: 33. Moses Ocheje 34. Anthony Okemmiri 15. Mohammed Garba 18. Emeka Issac 16. Austin Obaroakpo 6. Abiodun Adebayo 31. Shedrack Asiegbu 24. Uche Ihuarulam 9. Sunday Adetunji 29. Arinze Nwangwu (Sherif Bashir 84′) 13. Yakub Hammed (Chimezie Amanfor 32′)
Unused Subs: 22. Chinedu Anozie 3. Emmanuel Ogbuagu 4. Chima Uluocha 21. Obi Samson 26. Kabiru Ayinde
GOALS: Shedrack Asiegbu 11′, 90+8′ (P)
PLATEAU UNITED: 21. Dele Ajiboye 31. Hamisu Saleh 3. Daniel Itodo 5. Jimmy Ambrose 24. Salomon Junior (Okoro Obasi 71′) 6. Golbe Elisha 18. Emma James (Joshua Obaje 57′) 17. Peter Eneji Jnr 32. Kabiru Umar 10. Benjamin Turba 14. Emeka Umeh (Hamzat Owolabi 55′)
Unused Subs: 1. John Gaadi 4. Chima Ndukwu 9. Stanley Okoro 33. Lazarus Fan
BOOKED: Elisha Golbe 45′ Hamisu Saleh 90′, Dele Ajiboye 90′
GOAL: Hamzat Owolabi 80′
Referee: Ahmed Lamido
Man of the Match: Shedrack Asiegbu
Abia Warriors 2-1 Plateau United
Shots (On target): 13(9)-8(4)
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