Chisom Egbuchulam's sumptuous second half strikes handed Rangers a 2-0 win over Rivers United in the second game of the NPFL Super4 tournament in Enugu on Wednesday. The striker, fresh from winning Nigerian Sports Awards Player of the Year, put the Flying Antelopes ahead in the 64th minute before getting his brace ten minutes afterward. Markson Ojobo missed a penalty before substitute Chiamaka Madu would see a late effort crash off the woodwork.
The last time both sides met, it served up one of the most one-sided fixtures of Rangers' title-winning season. But anyone expecting another 4-0 bashing quickly diminished such thoughts as Rivers United bossed the opening minutes with Bernard Ovoke and Guy Kuemian keeping the new-look centre-back pairing of captain for the evening, Chibuzor Madu and Senegalese Ousmane Pape Sane on their toes. In midfield, Rangers who were missing the craft of former Nigerian Under-20 star Obinna Nwobodo did struggle to keep possession early in the game and early attacking attempts were quickly snuffed out by vigilant and combatant trio of Gabriel Olalekan, Festus Austine and new-signing, Aliassou Sannou. Rangers would eventually wait till the 29th minute before their first meaningful attempt on Sunday Rotimi's goal.
That chance had sprung out from Tope Olusesi's brilliant cutback for the unmarked Egbuchulam but the striker failed to beat the ageless Rotimi from six yards. Earlier, Ovoke had sent a freekick narrowly wide of Nana Bonsu's goal. The Ghanaian had also thwarted Esosa Igbinoba's effort in those early minutes of dominance by the Rivers side. Rangers looked better after the interval and the introduction of Charles Henlong offered the league defending champions more of the ball in midfield. What the game lacked was just a goal and Ovoke nearly provided it when he ghosted into the Rangers area but sent the ball flying over the crossbar. It would be his last contribution as Bolaji Sakin replaced him minutes afterward.
Kuemian would see his goal-bound strike blocked before Egbuchulam announced himself. Quick exchanges with Godwin Aguda in the Rivers United area set up Egbuchulam who unleashed an unstoppable strike that broke the deadlock. The stunner had the crowd on their feet and while it recovered, Egbuchulam waited ten minutes then repeated the feat. Skinning past Gabriel Olalekan, Egbuchulam curled his strike goalwards. It flew, past Rotimi's best effort, grazing the crossbar and into the net. If the first was superb, the second was an absolute belter. United sought to respond and got a lifeline when Bolaji Sakin won a penalty in the 76th minute. But Nana Bonsu was keen on preserving his clean sheet, superbly stopping Ojobo's effort from the spot.
Rangers nearly got their third when substitute Chiamaka Madu sold a dummy past his marker but with Rotimi beaten, the ball hit the woodwork. Bonsu at the other end denied United as they sought a consolation. Superior finishing by a player of top quality had made all the difference between the two continental candidates.
Rivers United: Rotimi, Ojobo, Wassa, Sannou, Austine, Olalekan, Anaezemba, Kuemian, Ogbugh, Igbinoba, Ovoke
Subs: Thomas, Nweke, Asekunowo, Obinze, Weli, Okonkwo, Sakin, Asamoah, Israel, Mohammed, Doumbia
Rangers: Bonsu, Okoro, Okolie, Ousmane, Madu, Madu, Aguda, Olusesi, Udeagha, Egbuchulam, Clement
Subs: Akor, Odita, Madu, Azeez, Enete, Anyasodo, Edoh, Henlong, Amaefule