Substitute, Kelvin Itoya’s late sublime strike was the difference in the match Day 8 NPFL encounter as hosts Rangers International ran away with all three points at stake to continue the club’ dominance over visiting El-Kanemi Warriors at this venue in the past five seasons.
It was a swift attacking and resolute defending performance from the wards of coach Imama Amapakabo who was in charge of the ‘Flying Antelopes’ when they beat all comers to the title two seasons back but Rangers gaffer, Olugbenga Ogunbote had better ideas on the day.
Rangers quickly settled into the match from the blast of referee, James Amadin’ whistle signalling the start of hostilities with the quartet of Bright Silas, Abu Azeez, Godwin Zaki and Godwin Aguda probing the visitor’s rear for early goals which failed to come despite creating over four scoring chances that included Aguda’ uncharacteristic miss at the quarter-hour mark with a yawning net at his mercy.
The visitors gradually fought back gamely pushing the host’ back with some fine build-up from the rear that drew applause from the half-full capacity stadium with Mathias Samuel and Razak Aliyu the chief architects.
Anthonio Dasusa, Sunday Anthony and Home base Super Eagles star, Nuru Mohammed drilled the backline of Rangers and could have taken the lead on the stroke of half time after some hesitant defending gave Anthony enough time to shoot from an acute angle to draw a splendid save from Femi Thomas.
On resumption of play, the visitors settled quicker into the game and was denied a goal scoring opportunity few minutes into the half as Femi Thomas rose to the occasion to beat out Dasusa’ effort for a harmless corner-kick.
Kelvin Itoya and Richard Jonathan were thrown into the fray on 50 and 60 minutes of the game by Coach Ogunbote and it turned out to be an inspiring substitution as the duo brought speed, skill and urgency into the match but tried as much as they can, Warrior’s backline stood their ground that would have fetched them a famous draw but for the individual brilliance of Itoya who ran onto an Uwadiegwu Ugwu’ inviting cross at the edge of the visitor’s box to dribble past a sea of tackling legs and fired past Adamu Abubakar on 82 minutes for the only goal of the match which drew large cheers from appreciative fans.
Coach Ogunbote said after the win, “It was a tough match and we thank God for the victory. It was a hard earned victory. We expected it because when you play against your former team, you want to do everything to prove points but all the same, it was a very good game. I was too sure that I was going to win the game even when it was still barren going into the last ten minutes of the game. Hard work and self belief have been the tonic been preached to the players going into more matches but I must stress that this is a team still in the making.”
Hero of the match, Kelvin Itoya who now have two goals in the campaign said, “I must thank God for giving us this victory. The goal is for all our supporters, management team and sponsors for their belief in us.”
Chief coach, Ernest Ezinwo of El-Kanemi said after the encounter, “Football can’t be adequately quantified as you may play a very good game but end on the losers side and that was what happened today. We were not lucky in today’s match. Our current position gives us serious cause for concern but I believe that soon we shall get it right,”
RANGERS TEAM: Femi Thomas, Brownbraye Okpus, Ugwu Uwadiegwu, Christian Madu, Semiu Liadi, Bright Silas, Abu Azeez (Richard Jonathan -60th min.), Godwin Zaki ( Ifeanyi George -75thmin.), Solomon Okpako, Godwin Aguda (Kelvin Itoya – 50th min.). SUBS NOT USED: Nana Bonsu, Chibuzor Madu, Ugonna Anyora, Felix Ogbuke.
CAUTION: Solomon Okpako -85thminute, Christian Madu -90th minute
GOAL: Kelvin Itoya -82nd minute.
EL-KANEMI TEAM: Adamu Abubakar, Innocent Gabriel, Ebuka Anaekwe, Razak Aliyu, Tchoanfine Pade, Lucky Erimuya, Bello Kofarmata, Mathias Samuel (Adebayo Odomusu -73rdmin.), Anthonio Dasusa (Hussaini Bata -80th min.), Sunday Anthony, Nuru Mohammed. SUBS NOT USED: George Michael, Coulibally Solihu, Sixths Forsah, Ehis Kenneth, Isiaka Olawale.