By George Akpayen
Kazeem Ogunleye saved Rangers from a sixth defeat of the Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) season when he came off the bench to score a late goal to help claim a point off a 1-1 draw at Enyimba on Wednesday.
Title-holders Enyimba were favourites to earn the full points from the Oriental Derby as the Flying Antelopes have not won in their last 20 away meetings with their southeast rivals (D3 L17).
Enyimba head coach Finidi George made just a change to his previous matchday starters with Ini Edem taking the place of Chigozie Chilekwu who was not listed at all. Rangers head coach Fidelis Ilechukwu opted to leave Godwin Obaje and Chukwudi Nwaodu on the bench with Kenechukwu Agu and Ugochukwu Leonard starting.
The People’s Elephant got off the blocks quicker and within 10 minutes had the first sight of goal. Murphy Ndukwu threaded a through-pass to Chijioke Mbaoma who played largely off the shoulder of Rangers’ defence. The striker disappointingly aimed his left-footed attempt off target without making goalkeeper Detan Ogundare work.
Two minutes later, Mbaoma stole in around the near post to direct his header over Ogundare following good work from Chidiebere Nnachi whose low cross was deflected en route Mbaoma’s finish.
Mbaoma nearly doubled the lead for the home side but his headed attempt failed to find target after 26 minutes.
Three minutes afterwards, Daniel Daga and Joseph Atule combined to find target. Atule’s effort was however saved by Rangers goalkeeper Ogundare.
Just before the break, Rangers got an attempt on target through Kalu Nweke. Enyimba goalkeeper Olorunleke Ojo did enough to keep Nweke’s effort out to ensure his team took their lead into the break.
It turned out to be a game of two halves, as Rangers played more from the front than their rivals. Ilechukwu sent on Obaje and Austin Onyemaechi for Leonard and Kingsley Maduforo in the early moments of the second period. In between Enyimba goalkeeper Ojo had to deny Chidiebere Nwobodo from levelling the score.
Ugochukwu Ejike and Agu also took attempts at Enyimba’s goal but failed to get the desired outcome.
Ilechukwu then decided to yank off Agu for Ogunleye on 72 minutes. Ogunleye needed just 13 minutes to get his first attempt on target which Ojo pushed to safety.
On 87 minutes, Ojo could not keep out Ogunleye’s effort which resulted in the equalizer for Rangers. Daga dilly-dallied with the ball in front of Enyimba’s box and caught in possession by the hard-tackling Ejike. The ball fell kindly for Ogunleye who set himself up with his first touch and struck sweetly with his second, left-footed, to bring the score to 1-1 at the Enyimba Stadium in Aba.
In added time, Joel Odoh’s shot was kept out by Ojo as Rangers avoided defeat at Enyimba for the first time in the league since July 31, 2016 (2,699 calendar days).