Onuwa Chukwuka came of the bench to score seven minutes from time to give Enyimba a hard-earned 1-0 win over Remo Stars in a Matchday 8 game at the Enyimba International Stadium in Aba on Sunday.
The midfielder finished off a move he started, combining with striker Ibrahim Mustapha to tap home his first Enyimba goal and secure maximum points on another day of missed chances by the People’s Elephant.
Enyimba made three changes to the team that lost at Wikki Tourists on Thursday with captain Andrew Abalogu taking his place back from Stanley Okorom at right-back. Defender Nelson Ogbonnaya also replaced Uche John at right back.
It was Ogbonnaya that started the day’s chapter of missed chances as early as the third minute when his team’s second corner kick fell kindly for him inside the box but he miscued his effort over the bar.
A better opportunity came for the hosts in the tenth minute when the effervescent Mustapha put through a pass into the blind side of the Remo defence for winger Thomas Zenke but Remo goalkeeper Emmanuel Fabiyi made himself big to deny the former Nasarawa United star his first Enyimba goal.
The chances were really pouring in, in the opening quarter of an hour and it was the turn of Abdulrahman Bashir to miss, this time, Mustapha’s flick to Nasiru Sani’s long throw found him unmarked from just five yards out but he headed wide.
While Enyimba kept frittering away their chances, they almost dragged a tight rope onto themselves at the other end. A gross lack of communication between defender Ogbonnaya and goalkeeper Theophilus Afelokhai resulted in the defender heading backwards to his goalkeeper who was already coming to claim the ball. Afelokhai completely missed the ball but was grateful it rolled wide before Lanre Runsewe could direct it goalwards.
The visitors, coached by Kennedy Boboye, were then dealt a severe blow after goalkeeper Fabiyi went out injured after a nasty collision with Mustapha when both players were aiming at Sani’s left wing cross. Former Abia Warriors goalkeeper John Shuaibu came on to replace the impressive shot-stopper for his Remo Stars debut.
It was the turn of Enyimba keeper Afelokhai to earn his pay in the 36th minute when he dived at full stretch to turn away Sunday Williams’ effort from 20 yards after the winger, who was starting in the absence of Victor Mbaoma brilliantly turned to slip away from Enyimba’s centre-back duo of Ogbonnaya and Ifeanyi Anaemena.
Usman Abd’allah’s Enyimba started the second half the way they started the first and also kept up their lack of composure in the final third, shooting rather incoherently wide in most occasions.
There was huge cheer in a section of the crowd that made spectators from other sections stretch their necks in curiosity to wonder what happened. Alas! It was Onuwa that was sent to warm up by the head coach. Behold! Here comes the messiah!
The introduction of the former MFM FC midfielder for Bashir 17 minutes from time drew a general applause from the expectant crowd and he duly obliged, right from his first touch.
With his first touch, Onuwa created perhaps the best chance of the half, lofting a pass accurately for his fellow substitute Reuben Bala whose effort from inside the box was well gathered by Shuaibu.
While Onuwa started creating chances for his side, their balance became exposed and Remo Stars started finding spaces of their own. Forward Mathias Ogwuche headed Abiodun Awoyemi’s cross over 15 minutes from time before former Enyimba midfielder Ayo Saka hit the post from close range.
Chances returned to the other end where Mustapha met Onuwa’s ‘nassa’ cross with a well-directed header but Shuaibu saved expertly in the 79th minute. Moments later however, it was the turn of the striker to hit one against the upright.
The breakthrough finally came in the 83rd minute and it was simply down to the brilliance of the two players – Mustapha and Onuwa. The latter passed long from his own half to the striker who exquisitely skinned the previously impregnable Edoka Owoicho, beat a second marker on the byline before squaring beyond Shuaibu, leaving Onuwa – who had ran over 60 metres to get into the box – to tap into an empty net from two yards.
That was the summariser which sealed a win for Enyimba that took them to second spot on the Group A log although their rivals still have games in hand.
Enyimba: 1. Theophilus Afelokhai 11. Theophilus Afelokhai 32. Nasiru Sani 17. Farouk Mohammed (Dare Olatunji 87′) 5. Ifeanyi Anaemena 24. Nelson Ogbonnaya 16. Thomas Zenke 8. Abdulrahman Bashir (Chukwuka Onuwa 73′) 19. Ibrahim Mustapha 26. Austin Oladapo 13. Stanley Dimgba (Reuben Bala 54′)
Unused Subs: 21. Stanley Nwabali 23. Stanley Okorom 29. Wasiu Alalade 31. Stephen Manyo
BOOKED: Andrew Abalogu 46′ Austin Oladapo 53′ Farouk Mohammed 63′
GOAL: Chukwuka Onuwa 83′
Remo Stars: 1. Emmanuel Fabiyi (John Shuaibu 25′) 11. Abiodun Awoyemi 5. Edozie Ewelike 27. Victor Chidume 3. Bright Akpojuvwewo 19. Owoicho Edoka 23. Lanre Runsewe 8. Saheed Lasisi (Ayo Saka 65′) 17. Mathias Ogwuche 10. Omotayo Adebogun 7. Sunday Williams (Ya’u Hassan 82′)
Unused Subs: 9. Ekene Awazie 12. Solomon John 18. Kingsley Akemini 22. Olufemi Oladapo
BOOKED: Omotayo Adebogun 51′ John Shuaibu 80′