A well-struck free-kick by Kazeem Ogunleye from about thirty meters, just five minutes into the second half, proved to be the match-winner for the 'Flying Antelopes,' Rangers International F.C. Coach Fidelis Ilechukwu's tutored side earned a hard-fought victory over visiting Rivers United in a rescheduled matchday 11 encounter of the NPFL 2023/2024.
Coach Ilechukwu made four changes to his squad that narrowly lost to Akwa United over the weekend in Eket, opting for a more adventurous 4-4-2 formation. The duo of Chidiebere Nwobodo and Godwin Obaje led the attack, while Kazeem Ogunleye, Auwalu Naziru, Agu Kenechukwu, and Ugochukwu Ejike took charge of the midfield to push the CAF Confederation Cup hopefuls back into their defensive shells.
In the early stages of the game, chances fell for Kenneth Igboke, Godwin Obaje, and Chidiebere Nwobodo. However, former Rangers shot-stopper Saidu Mutawakilu was at his best to deny the home side these opportunities.
Both sides failed to find the back of the net in the first half, and as they retired for the break, the home side emerged stronger for the second half, pushing for the much-needed opener. Kazeem Ogunleye, with a free kick from about thirty meters, found the back of the net after Nwobodo was brought down during a massy run, recording his fifth goal of the season.
Efforts to increase the tally by the seven-time league champions proved abortive, as a combination of good goalkeeping and some big misses meant that the game did not see another goal. The referee brought proceedings to an end, and a large number of spectators joyfully celebrated the win, the first for the Enugu side over the 'Pride of Rivers' in five seasons.
In a post-match reaction, Coach Fidelis Ilechukwu said, "This win cannot be described as a narrow defeat. When you defeat the only remaining continental team of the country, it can’t be described as a narrow win. Our opponents have not lost for nearly six matches, but we stopped them today. It is not as if we were at our best today as we failed to take some glaring chances we created. However, we thank God for the victory and we keep working on the team to take the club to the level it rightly belongs."
The GM/CEO of the club, Barrister Amobi Ezeaku, said after the victory, "This was a hard-fought victory that came to assuage the long thirst for a win to put the club on the right pedestal towards making positive impacts in the second stanza. The large number of fans and supporters that went home happy is a big testimony that the young team is gradually getting to the shape needed to challenge for honors."
With the win, Rangers end the first round on 28 points, scoring 26 goals and conceding twenty, occupying the 8th position on the 20-team log.