A Kazeem Ogunleye’ well struck free-kick from about thirty meters just five minutes into the second stanza turned out to be the match-winner for the ‘Flying Antelopes’, Rangers International F.C as the coach Fidelis Ilechukwu tutored side, earned a hard-fought victory over visiting Rivers United in a re-arranged match day 11, NPFL 2023/2024 encounter.
Coach Ilechukwu had made four changes to his squad that narrowly lost to Akwa United at the weekend in Eket opting for a more adventurous 4-4-2 formation with the duo of Chidiebere Nwobodo and Godwin Obaje leading the attack while the quartet of Kazeem Ogunleye, Auwalu Naziru, Agu Kenechukwu and Ugochukwu Ejike taking charge of the middle of the pack to push the CAF Confederation Cup hopefuls back into their defensive shells.
Early in the game, chances fell for Kenneth Igboke, Godwin Obaje, and Chidiebere Nwobodo. Still, former Rangers shot-stopper, Saidu Mutawakilu, was at his best to deny the home side these opportunities.
With both sides failing to find the back of the net in the first stanza and retiring for the break, the home side came out stronger for the second stanza pushing for the much-needed opener which came off the left foot of Kazeem Ogunleye who riffled home a free kick from about thirty meters after Nwobodo was brought down while on a massy run to record his fifth goal of the season.
Efforts to increase the tally by the seven-time league champions proved abortive as a combination of good goalkeeping and some big misses meant that the game did not see another goal as the referee brought proceedings to an end as a large number of spectators sang joyfully home to celebrate the win which is the first for the Enugu side over the ‘Pride of Rivers’ in five seasons.
Coach Fidelis Ilechukwu, in a post-match reaction, said, “This win cannot be described as a narrow defeat. When you defeat the only remaining continental team of the country, it can’t be described as a narrow win. Our opponents have not lost for nearly six matches, but we stopped them today. It is not as if we were at our best today as we failed to take some glaring chances we created. However, we thank God for the victory and we keep working on the team to take the club to the level it rightly belongs.”
The G.M/CEO of the club, Barrister Amobi Ezeaku, said after the victory, “This was a hard-fought victory that came to assuage the long thirst for a win to put the club on the right pedestal towards making positive impacts in the second stanza. The large number of fans and supporters that went home happy is a big testimony that the young team is gradually getting to the shape needed to challenge for honors.”
With the win, Rangers ends the first round on 28 points scoring twenty-six goals conceding twenty, and occupying the 8th position on the twenty-team log.