The surreal, dream-like atmosphere of a near-empty Gateway International Stadium, Sagamu on Sunday was a fitting setting for the breaking of jinxes. There, Enyimba saw off hosts Remo Stars to move to within two points of a continental place and, in the process, earn a first away win of the season.
Gbenga Ogunbote was all smiles afterward, admitting, “It (winning away) means a lot, and we have actually tried all through the first round to see that we get it but we didn’t. Now we have gotten it at the start of the second round.”
Leonard Ugochukwu proved the matchwinner on the day, picking up the ball from quite some way out and firing off a daisycutter with nestled in the corner, albeit via the aid of a shocking error by Remo Stars goalkeeper David Walbe. In many ways, it was apt – the first half especially started in scrappy fashion, with neither side able to get a foothold in the early going.
It was the hosts though who first found their feet, coming close to opening the scoring in the 14th minute. Ekene Awazie made the most of a deep corner, driving it back into the six-yard box, but Ewelike Edozie could only divert it wide.
Fourteen minutes after, Remo had a huge chance to take the lead. A low cross from the left bobbled all the way through to the back post to an unmarked Awazie, but goalkeeper Fatau Dauda was out in a flash to deny the forward.
The Ghana international was in unbeatable form on the day, producing an even more impressive save with an outstretched foot from Victor Mbaoma. “There were two glaring chances they lost, that you have to give kudos to [Dauda],” Ogunbote admitted.
There was mild drama on the sidelines in the 37th minute though, with the Technical Adviser being sent to the stands, having been adjudged to have directed some choice words at referee Imam Malik. The boss maintained, however, that nothing derogatory was said.
“It’s unfortunate. We just have to respect constituted authority. Honestly, I did not say anything, but I don’t know.”
In any case, the perceived injustice seemed to spur Enyimba on, and with the very first shot on target came the opening goal. Leonard found himself in space centrally, but there was still a lot to do from full on 30 metres. His fizzing shot squirmed out of Walbe’s grasp and spun into the back of the net.
The goal seemed to rock the hosts, and almost immediately there was a chance for a second. Ifegwu Ojukwu and Leonard combined on the break, before setting up Stanley Dimgba for a shot at goal which Walbe fielded.
“Our target was to ensure we scored them first,” Ogunbote revealed. “Because it is a young team – when you score against them, they will play against their game plan, which really happened.
“You could see it; the moment we scored our goal, they were no longer composed.”Remo Stars did turn up the pressure in the second period, but not before almost conceding a second from a free kick. Ikechukwu Ibenegbu came tremendously close from a free kick, beating Walbe all ends up but seeing his effort clatter against the upright.
The best move of the game then saw Stephen Chukwude, Leonard and Mfon Udoh combine to devastating effect, only to see the captain’s dipping shot turned away by the goalkeeper’s fingertips. “We could have wrapped up the game earlier,” Ogunbote said.
There was however time at the end for the hosts to set up one final chance. Substitute Oche Salefu found some space on the left side of the penalty box, with Mbaoma unmarked in front of goal. His intended cutback was just behind the striker though, and Enyimba held out comfortably for the points.
Remo Stars 0-1 Enyimba [Leonard Ugochukwu 39’]
Starting XI: Fatau Dauda, Dare Ojo, Ifeanyi Anaemena, Nelson Ogbonnaya, Chima Akas, Kelly Kester, Ikechukwu Ibenegbu (Koffi Franco Atchou 84’), Stanley Dimgba (Joseph Osadiaye 87’), Mfon Udoh, Ifegwu Ojukwu (Stephen Chukwude 48’), Leonard Ugochukwu