Ben Ezechime, Enugu
Enugu Rangers International Football club on Thursday evening returned to the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in style after two years to defeat Shooting Stars of Ibadan 2-0 in a rescheduled week 16 of the 2023/24 NPFL season.
The Flying Antelopes returned to its hallowed ground, Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu, after over two and a half seasons, to dispatch hard-fighting Oluyole Warriors 2-0 to end the year on a winning note.
Coach Ilechukwu kept faith with the match day squad that earned a draw in Aba, a week ago, except for the duo of Kingsley Maduforo and Leonard Ugochukwu. It was a smooth start for the Enugu side with their 4-3-3 formation that pushed the visitors back into their defensive shells.
Visiting goalkeeper, Darlington Ovunda, produced some heroic moments to deny the game early goals as he punched, blocked, and parried all that was aimed at his goal.
He produced some spectacular saves in the 23 and 24 minutes stoping Kenechukwu Agu’s efforts from going in.
But he could do little to prevent Kalu Nweke’s’ connecting header off a weighted Kenechukwu Agu’s cross in the 27th minute to send the home fans, who thronged ‘the Cathedral’ in their tens of thousands into rapturous celebrations.
Godwin Obaje had another opportunity to further punish the visitors in the 40th minute, but he took too much time on the ball for the retrieving defense to choke him out of space in a rare counter-attacking move by the home side.
In the second stanza, injury to Kenechukwu Agu saw the introduction of Kazeem Ogunleye as Odoh Joel also took the place of Onyemaechi Austin on the 63rd minute.
The changes restored some stability in the home side’s play in the mid field as the visitors seemed to show some dominance with the introduction of Pyagbara Dumte, Ayobami Abiodun and Kareem Ademola.
Odoh Joel failed to make it count on the 68th minute after he was set through on goal by Kazeem’s sublime pass just as Obaje failed to connect home on the 71st minute as an Odoh pass found him with the yawning net at his mercy.
Substitute, Okorie Chiedozie, put the icing on the cake on 87 minutes after he dribbled his way past two markers to curl in a shot that may be a contender for goal of the season, past Ovunda for the second goal of the encounter and his first premiership strike to send the packed stands in wild jubilations.
Coach Fidelis Ilechukwu praised the players after the match.
“It was a good match with a good result against a quality side.
“We expected a tough match and that is what we got on our first match before our loyal fans and supporters in over two and a half seasons.
“Our first half was top notch but we slowed down a bit in the second giving our opponent the opportunity to come out and fight but with the second goal, and others that we missed, I give my boys thumbs up.
“No doubt, the pitch that was newly relaid did not give my players the perfect place to do their thing,” he said.
Ilechukwu also thanked the Enugu State Government for ensuring that “we returned to Enugu and play before our fans whom we appreciate for always standing by us.”
Kalu Nweke who scored the club’s first goal for the season as well as the first in the newly renovated cathedral pitch said, “I am indeed happy that we got the maximum points today against 3SC and for the goal I scored, it was a team effort and we hope to continue this way until we realise our set target for the season.”
With the victory, Rangers now have twenty-two points (22) from fifteen matches and still occupy the 9th spot on the twenty-team log.
They will next play Bendel Insurance F.C. at the Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin-City in a match day 17 fixture.