NPFL winner, Imama Amapakabo’s return to the stadium where he became a hero didn’t go as planned, after his team, El-Kanemi Warriors were defeated 1-0 by Enugu Rangers International at Cathedral in Enugu.
Kevin Itoya’s 82nd minute superb strike proved to be the difference between the two, as Rangers continued their dominance over their visitors in this fixture.
Rangers have now gone three games without defeat, two wins and a draw, while El-Kanemi are without a win in their last four games. It was a reunion between the Flying Antelopes and Amapakabo, who led the side to their first title in over three decades two years ago.
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However, whatever emotions the home side must have felt quickly dissipated after kickoff, as they started the strongest.
Rangers dominated the first half, coming close on several occasions to breaking the deadlock, through Bright Silas, Abu Azeez, Godwin Zaki, and Godwin Aguda, who had the best chance of the half at the half-hour mark, but missed with the goal gaping.
The visitors, led by Super Eagles star, Nura Abdullahi, who made his debut for the away side, were very resolute, organised, and handled whatever their hosts threw at them, even coming close to an opener just before the break, but both sides went into the break level.
After the break, whatever Amapakabo told his players appeared to be working as El-Kanemi looked renewed, starting the half as they ended it, on a positive note.
They almost took the lead but for Femi Thomas, in goal for Rangers, who was alert to deny Antonio Danusa with an excellent save.
In the 50th minute, Rangers’ manager, Gbenga Ogunbote, brought on Itoya, and ten minutes later, Richard Jonathan, as he tries to go for the kill.
But despite the duo making a positive impact, Amapakabo’s boys showed the Flying Antelopes and their fans what they were missing, as they proved difficult to break down.
However, with eight minutes left to play, their resilience was finally broken, when Rangers found a breakthrough via Itoya.
A beautiful interplay of passes at the edge of the box from the home side put Itoya through, with the attacker keeping his cool to calmly slot past Adamu Abubakar for the decisive goal.
It was Itoya’s second goal of the season, after he also scored the only goal of the game in their 1-0 home win against Rivers United.
A deserved win in the end for Rangers, who were the better side, but for El-Kanemi, despite the defeat, they were positive and can be happy with their performance.
“It was a difficult game,” Rangers manager, Ogunbote said after the game. “It was a hard-earned victory, and we thank God. We expected it because when you play against your former team, you want to do everything to prove a point, but it was a very good game.”
That result sees Rangers move up to fifth on the table with 13points, while El-Kanemi dropped deeper into relegation waters, replacing Kwara United as the bottom side.
Up next for the Flying Antelopes, they are on the road, as they take on defending champions, Plateau United, while El-Kanemi will look to end a run of four games without a win when they host Go Round FC.