Akwa United beat Abia Warriors 2-1 at Godswill Akpabio Stadium on Saturday to claim their first win of the season thanks to Ndifreke Effiong’s double.
Effiong scored either side of Harrison Ibukun’s equalizer to hand the Promise Keepers victory against his former employers, who had gone into the game on the back of defeats to Enyimba and Rivers United.
Had the crossbar not conspired against him, the striker — who finished last season as Akwa United’s top marksman — could have finished the Nigeria Professional Football League game with four goals.
It took the hosts just six minutes to take the lead. Olisa Ndah controlled the ball inside the Abia Warriors box and then found Charles Okafor, who slipped the ball to Effiong, and the striker did well to fire beyond goalkeeper Vincent Edafe and into the back of the net from six yards.
Effiong almost doubled the home side’s advantage two minutes later. From 20 yards, the striker unleashed a ferocious shot towards goal, only for the ball to crash against the crossbar.
Edafe then made two big saves to keep Kennedy Boboye’s men from extending their lead. The goalkeeper, who moved to School Road from Akwa’s city rivals Dakkada at the end of last season, produced a brilliant save to deny Samuel Amadi, whose left-footed effort looked destined for the bottom corner. He also kept out Effiong’s powerful shot.
At the other end, Matthew Etim flicked the ball behind for a corner to ensure that Fatai Abdullahi’s lofted ball did not get to Ibukun.
And midway through the half, Akwa seemingly took their foot off the pedal — and the visitors deservedly equalized.
They looked vulnerable at the back after Olisa Ndah picked up a knock after two bruising duels with Utibe Arit.
Efala did well to parry Nzube Anaezemba’s exquisite volley around the post following a cross from Innocent Gabriel.
But moments later, after Ndah was forced off the pitch with an injury, Warriors were back on level terms thanks to Ibukun, who sent a fierce shot into the roof of the net from inside the box.
Imama Amapakabo’s side continued to dominate after the equalizer, but Ikechukwu Nwani caused panic in the Abia Warriors box after cutting in from the left. A deflection prevented his cutback from reaching a sea of orange shirts.
Having been disappointed at his team’s lack of pace and, of course, cluelessness in the final third during the opening half, Boboye brought on Ubong Friday and Wisdom Fernando at the break.
The pair’s introduction quickly changed things, and Effiong could have scored on 50 minutes after Fernando rolled the ball to him.
Nine minutes later, Effiong eventually got his second of the afternoon. Akwa were awarded a penalty after Edafe was adjudged to have fouled Fernando, who got to Seth Mayi’s through ball first. Effiong stepped up to take the spot kick. Edafe guessed right but could not reach the ball.
The no.21 then, for the second time, hit the crossbar with a long-range shot.
On 72 minutes, Effiong had another opportunity to seal a hat-trick following a mistake from Edafe, but passed it up. The shot-stopper charged off his goal line to claim the ball but slipped, and Effiong latched onto to the ball. He could only fire just wide of the far post from a tight angle, though.
In stoppage time, Warriors went close to snatching a point through Denis Kingsley’s brilliant effort, but were denied by the base of the post.
After the game, Warriors coach, Amapakabo, rued his side’s loss, which leaves them rooted to the bottom of the table.
He said: “It is very painful and disappointing to lose a game like that. It is now important to focus on the next game.”
His opposite number, Boboye, believed his team had a good showing. “I think we did very well,” he said, when asked if he was satisfied with his team’s performance.