Inside the 90′: Enyimba survive Rivers United scare

By Eval Edu

John Noble was the hero in Port Harcourt as Enyimba FC scrapped through to the group stage of the CAF Confederation Cup in the 2020/2021 season. A slender one goal advantage was all Enyimba FC had heading into the 2nd leg play-off tie against bitter rivals Rivers United, and from the blast of the final whistle in Aba football fans knew the fixture was far from decided.

Rivers United striker Fortune Omoniwari toe-poked home to give the home side the lead just before half-time, and it stayed that way in regulation time. Honours even (Agg 1-1) after 180 minutes of an ill-tempered, nerve-wrenching piece of football, and it was penalties to separate the two sides. Enyimba’s shot-stopper John Noble produced two great saves to deny Kunle Odunlami and Israel Emmanuel, saving Cyril Olisema’s blushes who had earlier missed his spotkick; 5-4 it ended, and the People’s Elephant marched on to the group stage.

However, behind the tackles, adrenaline rush, and shenanigans that ensued; we’ll uncover the veil and analyse some major talking points from the 1-0 loss at the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium, Port Harcourt.

1. Osho sticks to four at the back

It is common knowledge for coaches to change defensive patterns and personnels in games, more so in a two-legged encounter, where they hold an advantage. However, Enyimba’s coach, Fatai Osho resisted the temptation. The gaffer placed his trust in the back four (Stephen Manyo, Nabil Yarou, Nelson Ogbonnaya, and Imoh Obot) that got the job done on Valentine’s day in Aba.

As always the pair of Nelson Ogbonnaya and Nabil Yarou were calmness personified, an assuring figure at the back with ice-cold controls and clearances in a difficult game. Imoh Obot’s marauding run down the left flank were hugely curtailed as he stuck to the task of keeping Malachy Ohawume at bay; while Stephen Manyo went in strong in tackles and doubled his effort to track down the ever lively Godwin Aguda.

The backline rose to the occasion in spite of being breached once in the tie, they gave nothing away to the delight of the gaffer who will feel his decision on the day was spot on.

Could a backline three or five have been disastrous?

2. Omaka the marker

The best players sometimes don’t get caught on camera, and oftentimes they fall within the defensive department of a team. In football, it is easier to build than to destroy, and Anthony Omaka was saddled with the responsibility of breaking down the opposition’s play.

In what was a 4-3-3 formation on paper, but seemingly 4-1-2-3 during moments of play, Anthony Omaka assumed the role of a “sitter” just in front of the back four, screening/shielding the defence. Omaka’s mobility on the pitch saw him intercept play countless times, put his body on the line, making some vital blocks, little wonder why he was left with a bloodied nose just before half-time.

Omaka gets treated after getting a bloodied mouth

Anthony Omaka’s turbo engine on the day was one Enyimba FC couldn’t do without.

3. Osho ups the intensity with a constant change in dynamics

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and not for the first time this season, the former Remo Stars Boss tinkered his formation, continually changing shape, creating new problems for Rivers United.

While Sadiq Abubakar had a quieter game in attack, he had a more efficient game tracking back on the right flank, in one of those occasions he took one for the team, a glowing side to his game on the day. Winger Anayo Iwuala was a constant threat and often swapped positions alongside Cyril Olisema and Samad Kadiri which made it difficult for the Rivers United defence to pick out their man.

Anayo was a constant threat to the Rivers United backline.

4. Enyimba weave plenty of pretty patterns without success

The People’s Elephant are known for playing some pretty stuff, pleasing to the eye, to the seduction of the endearing fans. As difficult as it was on a bubbly bumpy pitch, Enyimba conjured moments of pure football brilliance, but more often than not they were let down in the final third.

The team’s decision-making was often called to question in a game that was tension soaked. In another day, and on a better pitch the Elephants football artistry would have been rewarded with the end product it does deserve.

5. John Noble the joker?

It has been a constant rise to prominence for John Noble at Enyimba FC, a team that has world class proven goalkeepers, breaking even for a new boy should be a herculean task. But for Noble, it isn’t.

Good height, superb frame and reflexes for a goalkeeper; straightaway, Noble was called into action in the opening minutes, and the shot stopper spread himself so large like butter over bread to frustrate Fortune Omoniwari goal-bound shot.

It got better during the penalty shootout, Noble denied Rivers United not once but twice, and inevitably scored the winning spot kick.

A home boy was supposed to thwart the efforts of his home team, it doesn’t make the job any easier, maybe the script was written in the stars.

John Noble becomes the hero of the penalty shootout
Was John Noble really the joker?

In all, it was a balanced game over two legs with all the ingredients of a Nigerian football classic, and it didn’t disappoint in any way.

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