As the rain came teeming down in Calabar, Enyimba produced an effervescent performance to dispatch Sunshine Stars on Sunday.
As part of activities to honour
the memory of former captain Chinedu Udoji, there was a minute’s silence observed before kick-off, and even the heavens seemed to weep over a loss, not just for the Enyimba, but for Nigerian football.
It is therefore fitting that the two-time African champions produced a performance of true grit and determination, with Ifeanyi Anaemena getting the winner with about twenty minutes to go to extend the club’s run of games without defeat to seven.
Paul Aigbogun made three changes to the side which drew against Kano Pillars a week earlier. The big news, however, the return of midfield playmaker Ikechukwu Ibenegbu to the matchday squad for the first time this season. He started on the bench.
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Enyimba were quickly out of the blocks, signaling their intent by winning a corner inside the first ten seconds.
That early endeavour
was rewarded in the 11th minute, as Chinonso Okonkwo knocked a deep cross down in the box for the onrushing Stephen Chukwude to fire past Moses Ocheje in the Sunshine goal.
Just three minutes later, it should have been two. Andrew Abalogu got two bites at the cherry at the near post,
but was unable to force either attempt home.
Top scorer Stanley Dimgba was typically menacing, and an electric run almost led to the advantage being doubled. His chipped cross caused panic in the visitors’ box, and the ball squirted out to the penalty spot for Okonkwo. The forward’s diving header bounced narrowly wide.
The two-time African champions went into the break a goal to the good and in the ascendancy, but all that momentum was dampened just five minutes after the restart. A low fizzing cross by Alaba Adeniyi ricocheted off the shin of Sikiru Alimi and left Fatau Dauda with no chance whatsoever.
Sunshine seemed energized by their equalizer, and midfielder Dayo Ojo had a good sight of goal from the edge of the area, but his shot was well over the top.
Defender Anaemena then went close with a spectacular dipping volley which Ocheje tipped over acrobatically.,
before goalscorer Chukwude contrived to produce a tame finish after Okonkwo’s flick had sent him clean through.
Eventually, Enyimba’s advantage was restored in the 70th minute, as Anaemena
rose highest from a corner to power a header in off the crossbar.
It was the goal which took the People’s Elephant up to second, level on points with Kano Pillars at the top of the table.