Malachi Ohawume scored twice in Rivers United’s 3-0 victory over Warri Wolves in Port Harcourt on Wednesday as the Pride of Rivers stayed on the coattails of the leaders, Plateau United in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).
United needed a response following their 0-1 reverse to Rangers International four days earlier and with technical manager, Stanley Eguma ringing the changes, the hosts responded by recording their biggest win of the season.
Veteran centre-half, Kunle Odunlami was the other goal scoring contributor for the Port Harcourt club who remain in second place on the NPFL standings, four points behind Plateau United with 13 round of matches still to play.
Fortune Omoniwari and Ohawume were chosen to lead the line for the hosts following less than appealing displays by the duo of Stephen Gopey and Ogbonna Onuoha in the defeat to Rangers in Enugu on Sunday.
The result of those changes in personnel was a more fluid and potent United frontline with Omoniwari impressing despite failing to register on the board.
The big forward was United’s liveliest player in the first half and was extremely unfortunate not to score at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium.
United’s first sight at goal arrived in the sixth minute when Godswill Kazie Eyinnaya met a precise Ishaq Rafiu delivery off a set piece only to place his header from an acute angle just wide.
Five minutes later, Kazie created space for himself on the near side but choose to pull the trigger when the better option appeared to be delivering a cross with several Blue shirts well-placed in the Wolves penalty area.
United were edging closer with some incisive movement and crisp passing in the final third and nearly got the breakthrough in the 13th minute when pint-sized terror, Esor Nelson Okwa swiveled and struck goal wards from six yards only to see his effort deflected for a corner.
In the 21st minute, Omoniwari came close to scoring an outrageous goal out of nothing when he calmly collected Cletus Emotan’s long range pass with his chest before firing a half volley inches wide off Godwin Ameh’s left hand post.
Two minutes later, Omoniwari again came close to scoring as he attacked Ishaq’s set piece delivery with intent but the effort again sailed just wide.
The attacker came close again in the 26th and 33rd minutes but watched in disappointment as he saw a goal bound free kick blocked by a visiting body and a well-placed low drive deflected for a corner, respectively.
Wolves were offering nothing offensive of note and the home support had their heads in their hands on the half hour when Ohawume came face to face with Ameh only to get too much on a chip from eight yards out.
Ohawume finally got his moment of redemption in the 37th minute as he drove into the Wolves box with fearsome pace before sending Ameh the wrong way with a cool finish.
The United players continued to push forward after taking the lead ostensibly with the knowledge that a solitary goal may not be enough to secure maximum points and they almost got their second in spectacular fashion, two minutes before the break.
Esor embarked on a mazy run which culminated in a strike, hit with venom and precision which the overworked Ameh managed to push away for a corner.
Wolves needed to improve and did so after the interval.
Samuel Amadi almost equalized for the Warri club with a delightful curled effort from the edge of the box which just about flew over Drissa Bamba’s crossbar in the 55th minute.
United then took over with Ishaq, Esor and Malachi coming extremely close to doubling the home’s side’s advantage in the ensuing ten minutes.
In the 73rd minute, United got their second goal of the evening and it came off the boots of an unlikely hero, Kunle Odunlami who prodded home from close range for his first goal of the season.
Wolves, predictably, stepped on the accelerator in a bid to hurl themselves back into the contest and almost did so with six minutes remaining.
Charles Atshimene came face to face with Bamba, following a lighting quick break and struck low and hard only for the United goalkeeper to produce a world class stop to deny the Wolves forward who was almost wheeling away in celebration.
In between that moment of brilliance from the United shot stopper, second half substitute, Ossy Martins missed two gilt-edged opportunities with the game becoming increasingly stretched.
Ohawume then completed his brace and seventh league goal of the season with a simple finish in the final minute of additional time to give United their most comprehensive win of the season so far.
Eguma was pleased with the performance and was understandably full of adulation for his team.
“When we started, the game was a bit difficult because Warri Wolves played compact football but we tried to open them from the flanks and that created the spaces in the middle which we capitalized on.
“I commend by boys for such an impressive performance,” Eguma said to the club’s official website, www.riverasunitedfc.com.ng.
The Wolves trainer, Evans Ogenyi was also full of praise
“I say congratulations to them. We never envisaged it but congratulations to Rivers United because today, they took their chances,” he said.
Rivers United stay in second place with 45 points from 25 matches.