Lobi Stars threw away a two goal lead to draw 2-2 with Kano Pillars at Aper Aku Stadium, Makurdi.
As the popular injunction goes, ‘take your chances when they come or you may regret not doing so’. Lobi flouted this injunction and painfully shared the spoils against an opposition that offered much less in the final third.
It has been a week of ups and down for Lobi Stars. Firstly, the Pride of Benue beat Kwara United 1-0 in Ilorin to brighten chances of winning the title.
Then on their way back, their bus went into flames. No life was lost but players and officials lost valuable items in the process as nothing could be retrieved.
But Benue State government reacted promptly just before this tie against Kano Pillars by donating a brand new bus as well as N10m to cushion the effect of the lost items.
The latter gesture was enough to raise morale after the dampening effect of the burnt bus.
Lobi’s last game at this arena was a top-of-the-table clash against Plateau United. The visitors earned a draw on a day the hosts needed maximum points to go top.
Lobi had to raise their game in this back-to-back high-profile fixture. While it is important to sustain the pressure at the top, it is also expedient to pull away from the chasing pack.
Going into this game, Pillars were 7th, trailing Lobi by six points and with a game in hand. Pillars are one of the teams that send goose pimples down the spines when you look over your shoulder and see them.
Victory against this direct competitor was therefore key and should leave Lobi in better stead approaching the title run-in.
Pillars are among the best travellers this season. Before this game, they had lost just thrice to Jigawa Golden Stars, MFM and Rangers while winning once at Dakadda and drawing six times. One of the draws was away to table-toppers Plateau United.
The visitors’ away record must have been noted by their hosts. Lobi knew they had to be on top of their game to win this one.
Pillars started the game like house on fire. As early as the first minute, they had earned the game’s first corner.
Then the next minute, Pillars defender Emmanuel Anyanwu gave a hint of how feisty proceedings will be when he slid Nzube Anaezemba into the tartan tracks. Centre Referee James Amadin blew a foul against Pillars and verbally warned Anyanwu.
In the 6th minute, Nyima Nwagua knocked down the ball for Auwalu Ali whose one-time canon wasn’t far from target.
The hosts soon seized the initiative and in the 8th minute came a contender for goal of the season. Carlos Galeya ran with a corner from the right before curling in a left-footer to the roof of the net.
This goal punctuated Pillars more offensive disposition. They remained on the back foot allowing the hosts to do more of the playing.
In the 15th minute, Abdulahi Musa upended John Lazarus in the box and three minutes later, Samad Kadiri sent Faith James the wrong way from the spot to double Lobi’s lead.
Some ten minutes later, Galeya’s free-kick was spilled by Enaholo but with Chinonso Okonkwo reacting slowly to the rebound, the goalkeeper gathered the ball.
It was all Lobi at this point and it seemed only a matter of time before they notched the third but against the run of play, Pillars reduced the tally three minutes before halftime when Auwalu nodded in Rabiu Ali’s corner.
At resumption, Lobi continued from where they stopped, throwing the kitchen sink at the visitors. Considering the turn of events, some faulted Lobi head coach, Gbenga Ogunbote’s decision to go all out to attack while his team led.
Lobi’s dominance showed in the fact that between the 55th and 62nd minute, they had amassed seven corners against just one in the first half.
The hosts were caught light at the back in the 69th minute when a counter-attack saw Chijioke Alaekwe cut in from the left and put the ball on the plate for Auwalu to blast home for the equaliser.
Lobi sustained the pressure and had chances to grab a thoroughly deserved winner. In the 80th minute, Enaholo parried John Lazarus’ scorcher into corner.
Then in additional time, Enaholo parried Kadiri’s header to the upright and into corner.
The hosts pushed and pushed but they had to pay dearly for failing to take their chances when they came. Historically, football is unforgiving of profligacy.