Kufre Ebong struck late to salvage a 2-2 draw for Akwa United against Sunshine Stars in Sunday’s NPFL game at the Uyo Township Stadium.
Akwa went into the game knowing a big win would see them reclaim top spot. They started well and could have scored twice inside the first four minutes through Ukeme Davies.
The visitors twice took the lead, exploiting defensive frailties of Patrick Udoh’s side, who were missing their first choice centre-backs- Emmanuel Ariwa and Hamza Onwuemenyi.
With the centre-backs- particularly Keke Uchenna struggling- it looked like the right thing to do was to bring on Onwuemenyi, but the coach decided not to risk the defender, who before the game had only played in Akwa’s opening day fixture against Gombe United. At the end, leaving out Uchenna on the pitch on the pitch proved costly.
Again, Akwa’s performance raised questions about the selection and tactics of coach Udoh. Right-footed defender, Otobong Effiong, started at left-back position ahead of left-full-back Ubong Bonty. Worse still, there was no place for the home side’s other left-full-back, Ada Adama, in the squad.
Sunshine stars showed again they can be dangerous on the road, having earlier earned a similar result at Kano Pillars in a Week 1 fixture.
The Akure gunners bullied their opponents with their physicality. Akwa’s backline, comprising Namso Edo, Otobong Effiong, Godspower Igudia and Keke Uchenna- all players well below 6 feet- struggled to cope with coach Henry Abiodun’s team.
After akwa’s early attempts, sunshine stars almost went ahead through Solomon Kwambe, who saw his shot deflected wide, before goal keeper Olufemi Kayode produced a superb save to deny Dayo Ojo.
Adeniji tunde then broke free down the left before sending the ball into the Akwa box. Kayode stretched to parry, but the ball fell to Guindo Abdullahi, who bundled home from four yards.
Akwa occasionally created chances. Godspower Aniefiok, who missed Akwa’s trip to Giwa fc through suspension, showed off some amazing skills- it looked like an invention. Aniefiok, while being surrounded by three sunshine players and the ball rising inches above the ground, smacked the ball with his shin, confusing his markers before drifting away.
And, before the break goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa made a double save to deny Akwa. Ubong ekpai then missed a sitter.
Utibe Archibong replaced Emeka Akueme few minutes after the break. Both sides profited from the striker’s introduction.
On the hour mark, Kunle Odunlami brought down Archibong as he tried to threaten the visitors. It looked like the incident happened inches into the box, but referee Dennis Turma gave a freekick at the edge of the box. Protests from the Akwa players did not change Turma’s mind.
Akwa, though, still took advantage of the foul. Edo unleashed a thunderbolt past Ezenwa. That was his fifth of the season.
However, eleven minutes later, the visitors were back in the lead. Kingsley Eduwo fired beyond Kayode from 27 metres after Archibong lost possession in midfield. It was a stunning effort from the former Shooting Stars forward.
Between the goals, Ekpai fired straight at Ezenwa following a one-two with Davies, and Aniefiok watched his long range volley narrowly miss target.
Sunshine then enjoyed few minutes of dominance, nearly produced a goal. Kayode produced a brilliant save to deny substitute Ibrahim Quattara, after being put through on goal.
Moments earlier, Ekpai’s shot was parried by Ezenwa and Edo forced the former Sharks keeper into a save.
Akwa may have been bullied by their visitors, but they were not out-possessed. The Uyo side increased the pressure on Sunshine Stars, and they got their reward- 18-year striker, like Aniefiok, a product of Emman Ntuk’s Greater Tomorrow Academy, nodded home few minutes after coming on as a substitute.
Akwa’s claims for a penalty after Ekpai appeared to be hacked down in stoppage time was turned down by Turma, and the visitors held on to secure a memorable draw.
Olufemi Kayode 30; Nnamso Edo 6, Godspower Igudia 35, Keke Uchenna 5, Otobong Effiong 16; John Aguda 32, Aniefiok Godspower 25, Ini Akpan 28 (capt) ; Ubong Ekpai 10, Emeka Akueme 9, Ukeme Davies 24
Iboro Akpakpan 1, Hamza Onwuemenyi 26, Ubong Bonty 23, Usman Sarafa 11, Kufre Ebong 19, Charles Ovat 18, Utibe Archibong 13
Coach: Patrick Udoh
Ikechukwu Ezenwa 22 ; Solomon Kwambe 25, Kunle Odunlami 32, Iwuorie Valentine 30, Amodu Nurudeen 14; Tamen Medrano 4, Dayo Ojo 9; Rotimi Sadari 20, Kingsley Eduwo 18, Guindo Abdullahi 31, Tunde Adeniji 17
Anyalogu Godwin 21, Abe Sunday 10, Olushola Ibrahim 3, Rahman Abdulsalam 12, Seun Olulayo 6, Quattara Ibrahim 27, Oduokpe Alex
Coach: Henry Abiodun
Admins Uko and Williams