Rangers International of Enugu practically crushed the resistance of title challenger, Kano Pillars F.C 2-0 in a matchday 34 fixture inside the main bowl of Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu, Wednesday.
Christian Nnaji who missed the ‘Oriental Derby’ over the weekend due to the death of his mentor, Chief Philip Chinonso Udala, reacted well to nod home a Tope Olusesi’ inviting corner-kick on five minutes to set the tone for what would have been total demolition but for some missed opportunities.
Coach Salisu Yusuf kept faith with eight members of the squad that fell to Heartland with the introduction of Tony Shimaga, Elijah Ani and Christian Nnaji in a 4-3-3 formation that dominated early proceedings with Ibrahim Olawoyin, Tony Shimaga and Ugochukwu Ugwuoke at their best just as the Rabi’u Ali led ‘Sai Masu Gida’ played catch-up.
On 18 minutes, the visitors almost drew level following a defensive mix-up but Ebuka David saw his effort fly over the bar and few minutes later, Nnaji thought he had his second of the day but his effort only greased the side netting after being set up by Olawoyin on 25 minutes.
Esor Achibong scored his first goal for the host and the second goal of the day at the half-hour mark after been fed by Nnaji off some neat interchange of passes.
Joshua Enaholo who stood between the sticks for the visitors produced two super saves on 42 and 45 minutes to deny Elijah Ani and Christian Nnaji while league legend, Rabi’u Ali watched in awe as his curly effort missed target three minutes into the added-on time.
Kano Pillars gaffer, Ibrahim Musa, introduced the troika of Jamil Mohammad, Nyima Nwagua, and Gerome Kuilong at the start of the second stanza and this move helped in pushing back the rampaging host a bit and in one of their move upfront, Rangers’ Ghanaian shot-stopper, Nana Bonso committed a professional foul outside his area and got the referee’ marching order at the hour mark to leave the host with a seaming mountain to climb.
To the credit of the coaching crew, the ten men of coach Salisu Yusuf did well to contain the many onslaughts of the visitors and would have extended the lead on 74 and deep into second-half stoppage time but Substitutes, Kenechukwu Agu and Daniel Vendaga missed when it was easier to find target just as Emmanuel Anyanwu got his marching order on 87 minutes after his second caution from the referee.
Coach Salisu Yusuf said after the end of the encounter, “It was a tough match against a very difficult side but our early goal really disorganized them and when we got the second goal, I sensed victory. With a man down for over thirty minutes, we had to re-strategize to ensure we did not allow them to come at us as they would love. We still continue to push for a possible continental ticket at the end of the season.”
An emotional Christian Nnaji who is now on nine goals for the ‘Flying Antelopes’, said after the match, “Honestly, I give thanks to almighty God for this victory. It wasn’t an easy game but I thank God we made it. I feel very happy about the victory but at the same time, I am very sad because I lost my boss. I dedicate the goal I scored to his memory because he is worth it. May his soul rest peacefully.”
Rangers will next play Adamawa United in a matchday 35, NPFL 2020/21 fixture at the Pantami stadium, Gombe.
RANGERS TEAM: Nana Bonsu, Tope Olusesi, Ifeanyi Nweke, Ernest Governor, Uche John, Tony Shimaga, Esor Achibong (Shedrack Asiegbu 61st Min.), Ugwuoke Ugochukwu (Kenechukwu Agu -61st Min.), Ibrahim Olawoyin (Chinonso Eziekwe -75th Min.), Elijah Ani (Daniel Vendaga -75th Min.), Christian Nnaji (Femi Thomas -61st Min.). SUBS NOT USED: Isaac Loute, Ebuka Anthony, Christian Madu, Charles Tiesso.
GOALS: Christian Nnaji -5th Minute, Esor Achibong -30th Minute.