Christian Weli’s header, 11 minutes from time gave Rivers United a hard-fought 1-0 win over Lobi Stars in a tightly-contested Nigeria Professional Football League game decided on Sunday at the Yakubu Gown Stadium, Port Harcourt.
Weli headed home Chiwendu Ali’s corner kick for the game’s only goal past a despairing Lobi goal keeper, Okiemute Odah who had been in impressive form until that moment.
The win meant United stayed level on points with the leaders, Wikki Tourists who beat Ikorodu United 1-0 in Lagos to stay to on goals difference.
United enjoyed the better chances of a tight first half and could have been ahead as early as the third minute only for Odah to deny Bernard Ovoke from close range in the third minute.
Lobi’s best chance in the first half arrived in the 27th minute through Anthony Okpotu whose free kick from 25 yards which was effortlessly collected by the Rivers United goal keeper, Sunday Rotimi.
Victor Alegbe almost gave the home side the lead on the stroke of half time but his tame effort failed to trouble the alert Odah in the Lobi goal.
United’s technical manager, Stanley Eguma appeared to give his boys the famous ‘hair dryer’ treatment in the changing room as his charges looked extremely hungry upon resumption.
Ovoke was denied in the 46th minute while a goal line clearance prevented midfielder, Yusuf Jaiyeola from claiming his first league goal of the season.
United continued to ask attacking questions with the impressive Ivoirian forward, Guy Kuemian watching in despair as his hopeful punt went wide in the 64th minute.
Weli also came close five minutes later but saw his goal-bound volley beaten away for a corner by the outstanding Odah.
Lobi continued to defend spiritedly and with 12 minutes remaining, Kuemian headed goal wards with the athletic Odah reacting well to push away the drive away for a corner.
United took the lead in deserved fashion from the ensuing corner through Weli, whose powerful header from point blank range left the impressive Odah embarrassed.
The home side held out for the win to stay at the coattails of Wikki, the leaders.
“I thank God for the win and incidentally, I scored a similar goal against Lobi Stars (for defunct Dolphins) last season.
“I knew I was going to score and we will continue to push on this season,” match winner. Christian Weli told Rivers United Media after the game.
Lobi Stars coach, Evans Ogenyi also spoke after the game, praising both sides for ‘good soccer artistry’.
“There was a momentary loss of concentration on our part and that allowed them to score from the corner.
“Congratulations to Rivers United. The team that takes its chances wins.
“It was a good game and both teams exhibited good soccer artistry,” he said.
With the Port Harcourt club staying joint-top of the NPFL standings as a result of the win, Eguma was quick to express his satisfaction with the result.
“We are happy with the win because at this stage of the season, that is the most important thing.
“The first half was very difficult for us but our players performed better in the second half.
“Our midfielders upped the ante and it resulted in consistent pressure on the opposition which resulted in the goal,” he said.
Rivers United have amassed 34 points from 19 matches this season.