An energetic display full of verve and endeavour was all Shooting Stars Sports Club (3SC) required to snap the unbeaten start of Rivers United to this season’s Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).
Sunday Faleye and Jide Apena struck either side of half time to render Lukman Mohammed’s effort in the first period purely academic and hand the hosts a richly-deserved win at a frenzied Lekan Salami Stadium, Adamasingba, Ibadan.
United actually started the brighter of the two sides and should have taken the lead in the seventh minute through Ivoirian marksman, Guy Kuemian but his header from five yards off a precise Ifeanyi Nweke cross failed to trouble the 3SC goalkeeper, Adamu Abubakar.
The visitors continued to boss possession until the 17th minute when the home side took the lead against the run of play.
Faleye, a thorn in the United flesh all afternoon, applied the finishing touch as he curled home, unmarked, from the six yard box to throw the hitherto apprehensive crowd into fits of hysteria.
That goal seemed to act as the catalyst to wave after wave attacks from the home side, pinning the visitors to their half.
Samuel Olabisi’s intelligent free kick in the 25th minute left the United goal keeper, Femi Thomas stranded but the ball came off the post and Abayomi Adebayo hammered a right-footed effort inches wide two minutes later.
United were reeling, Shooting were flying; playing some exhilarating football and the Adamasingba was shaking with emotion with the home faithful baying for blood against storied opposition that appeared to be there for the taking.
But United did not finish as last season’s NPFL runners up for nothing and were back on level terms just before the half hour.
Guy’s stunning strike in the 28th minute had surprised Abubakar in the 3SC goal but he recovered just in time to tip the ball away for a corner from which United got off the mark.
Lukman Mohammed was unmarked in the 3SC box and the attacker, pleasantly surprised at his good fortune, finished with glee to level matters to the dismay of the home fans who suddenly went quiet.
3SC would not lie down and die though and almost retook the lead straight from the restart through Apena whose swerving drive beat Thomas but came off the post – the second time the wood work would deny the home side.
Apena came close again in the 38th minute, from an acute angle, just inside the United box but this time, he got his bearings horribly wrong.
The home side continued to boss proceedings and almost put their noses in front for the second time on the day in the 43rd minute when Junior missed a sitter after some horrible defending by the visitors.
The alarm bells were truly ringing at this stage but the boys from Port Harcourt failed to heed the premonition and were almost behind with the last kick of an absolutely breathless half of football.
Faleye, consistently lively and outstanding, turned the United captain, Festus Austin and Olalekan Gabriel inside out before pulling the trigger from 16 metres but the former recovered at the death to produce and inspired block.
The second half belonged to the hosts for most periods as they continued to press and probe, producing some spectacular football right out of the top drawer which in all honesty, deserved a goal.
It arrived, in deserved fashion, in the 68th minute through the supreme Apena who in the end, had run himself to the ground with an impressive shift worthy to be emulated and admired.
3SC had come close severally before then, particularly in the 65th minute when Apena shot agonizingly with just Thomas at his mercy.
It could have been worse for United as the hosts fluffed their lines on more than a solitary occasion, missing a plethora of chances that could have left the ‘Pride of Rivers’ shamefaced.
A flurry of late substitutions, with Nzube Anaezemba and poster boy, Bernard Ovoke leading the charge, failed to save the day for the visitors.
Late chances arrived but were spurned and in the end, the hosts held out for the win, richly deserved as echoed by their head coach, Fatai Amoo.
“We were motivated knowing we were facing one of the best clubs (Rivers United) in the country.
“We knew United could easily reduce us to dust if we did not come to the party and that is what really motivated us.
“I thank God that my young boys proved that with time, they will grow,” the beaming tactician told our official website, www.riversunitedfc.com after the contest.
United’s technical manager, Stanley Eguma conceded that his charges lost to a better side on the day.
“The big lesson that we will take from this game was that we didn’t start well plus some blunders we committed in the second half after getting back into the game with the equalizer (didn’t help our cause).
“Going five matches unbeaten does not make you invincible and that is something we have to learn,” he said.
The defeat sees United drop from fifth to eighth on the NPFL log while 3SC rise from 19th to 12th.