Sochima Elum’s quick fire strike was all Rivers United needed to beat Nasarawa United in a Match Day 17 encounter at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium in Port Harcourt.
The young striker latched onto Emeka Atuloma’s pass before firing home in off the cross bar after just 57 seconds to send Stanley Eguma’s men to second spot on the Nigeria Professional Football League table.
The hosts went into the game on the back of a comfortable home win over Akwa United 72 hours earlier and with the full knowledge that a win can take them as high as 2nd position, Eguma opted to retain the same starting lineup that did the job on Thursday.
The visitors are almost at their lowest ebb in four years, hovering over the relegation zone before the day’s play after a 2-1 loss to MFM in Lagos on Sunday. Coach Kabiru Dogo made four changes to that side, restoring experienced defender Seun Sogbeso in a bid to stop Rivers United who have hit a free scoring form of recent.
Nasarawa United conceded two goals in the opening nine minutes in that defeat in Lagos and if Sogbeso’s experience was the plan to avoid a repeat, it didn’t. Elum picked up Atuloma’s ball over the top, chipped it over young defender Abdullahi Abubakar before shooting from the edge of the box, his effort hitting the under of the cross bar as it went beyond Nasarawa goalkeeper Suraj Ayeleso.
The hosts were buzzing and almost doubled their advantage twelve minutes later when Emeka Ogbugh – who received his Wonder Goal prize before kick off – viciously crossed inside the box. Striker Osita Chikere stooped to head wide with Ayeleso already beaten.
In the fifteenth minute, the visitors had their first attempt on goal, in-form striker Ikechukwu Nwani creating for himself an opportunity but his effort was pushed by Rivers goalkeeper Sunday Rotimi for a corner which yielded no fruit.
The next Nasarawa chance would come after the half hour mark, full back Abubakar striking an attempt over the bar before Markson Ojobo’s half-volley goes over at the other end as the hosts took their lead into the break.
Nasarawa United introduced their top scorer Nojeem Olukokun shortly after the interval as they push to get an equaliser but it was the hosts that came closer seven minutes after the break when Ogbugh broke down the right flank to cross for Elum who headed onto the side net.
That was Elum’s final contribution as he was replaced shortly after by playmaker Salefu Ochowechi who was making a return after an injury layoff. With the former Remo Stars midfielder on board, the hosts became more calculated and dangerous going forward.
They still had much to worry at the back though as Olukokun got the ball to the back of the net just before the hour mark but the assistant referee’s flag was already up before Abubakar could cross for the former Shooting Stars forward.
Ochowechi should have given Rivers the insurance goal seventeen minutes from time when clean through on goal. He elected to round goalkeeper Ayeleso within a tight space but could not keep the ball in play.
Nasarawa almost punished their hosts four minutes later as Isah Ndala created his team’s best effort on the day, freeing Olukokun who rather shockingly fired his attempt off target from inside the box.
Ogbugh has been lively throughout and almost got the goal his performance deserved eight minutes from time but his effort from 25 meters agonizingly came off the foot of the post.
United held on for their victory and while they celebrate their second spot for some days, their visitors will go back to Lafia pondering on whatever positives they could pick from their recent fruitless trips.
22. Sunday Rotimi 30. Markson Ojobo 3. Chiwedu Ali 13. Emeka Atuloma 19. Festus Austine 5. Samson Gbadebo 20. Fredrick Obomate 32. Sochima Elum 2. Osita Chikere 15. Bakary Bamba 26. Emeka Ogbugh
33. Emeka Nwabulu 12. Gabriel Olalekan 14. Zoumana Doumbia 23. Salefu Ochowechi 25. Malachi Ohawume 27. Christian Weli 28. Godwin Obinze
GOAL: Sochima Elum 1′
27 Suraj Ayeleso 31 Abdullahi Abubakar 3 Emmanuel Makama (c) 11 Isah Ndala 5 Seun Sogbeso 29 Jide Williams 17 Victor Okoro 9 Ikechukwu Nwani 22 Suleiman Mohammed 23 Maiyaki Ismaila 15 Kabir Balogun
Subs: 12 Umar Danlami 6 Abdulbasit Shittu 20 Chineme Martins 21 Douglas Achiv 28 Najeem Olukokun 32 Shammasu Mohammed 39 Anas Yusuf
Referee: Ibrahim Umar Fagge