Austin Ogunye converted a stoppage time penalty as the leaders, Lobi Stars edged Rivers United 3-2 in a dramatic Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) game on Sunday.
Lobi started the game on the front foot and duly took the lead in the 19th minute of the game after the referee, Folusho Ajayi, awarded a penalty when Festus Austine fouled Ogunye in the box.
Ezekiel Mbah stepped forward to fire low and hard into the bottom corner past Emeka Nwabulu who guessed right but failed to deal with the venom of the strike.
United battled back gamely and were back on level terms three minutes later as they won a penalty of their own virtually straight from the restart.
Big striker, Osita Chikere was honing in on goal but was cynically hacked down with referee Ajayi, who was to have an extremely busy evening, promptly pointing to the spot.
Ochowechi ‘Oche’ Salefu stepped up, sent the Lobi goalkeeper, Olufemi Kayode the wrong way and put his side on level terms as he registered his third goal of the season.
The ‘pride of Rivers’ refused to sit on their lead and continued to play wonderfully-open and expansive attacking football which soon culminated in a second goal of great beauty.
Osita, Emeka Ogbugh and Obomate Frederick combined to telling effect to ensure that United would take a half time lead into the break in an away fixture for the first time this season.
Obomate applied the goal-scoring touch from the flowing move to register his first goal for the club this season.
Lobi Stars, as expected, stepped on the accelerator after the break in search of the leveller and they got it in deserved fashion with 20 minutes left to play.
Ogunye intelligently pulled away from his markers to head home a brilliantly-delivered free kick at the far post to send the home fans into jubilation mood.
Less than sixty seconds later, Lobi thought they had put their noses in front for the second time in the game when Ogunye, again, headed home from inside the box but the goal was disallowed for offside.
That decision did not go down well with the home fans and several of them stormed towards the pitch pelting missiles at the direction of the match officials as the game was temporarily halted.
Normalcy was soon restored at the Aper Aku Stadium, venue of the game and the match recommenced.
As the high-octane encounter reached the home strait, both sides traded chances with Ogbugh almost winning it at the end.
His strike from an acute angle however flew inches wide off the post to the relief of the home faithful.
With the game seemingly destined to end in a draw, referee Ajayi awarded the hosts a second penalty of the afternoon after she ruled that Austine had fouled second half substitute, Manir Ubale in the United box,
The visitors vigorously protested the decision with the Rivers United technical manager, Stanley Eguma stating afterwards in an exclusive chat with their official website, www.riversunitedfc.com.ng that the decision to award the penalty at the death, left a sour taste in the mouth.
“There is nowhere in the world where that is a penalty. I challenge anyone who doubts what I am saying to watch the video of that incident and judge for themselves,” a bitter Eguma said.
Ogunye calmly converted the penalty, sending Nwabulu the wrong way, as the hosts closed out the 3-2 win.
Sunday’s result means that Lobi Stars remain three points clear at the top of the standings with 26 points from 14 matches while United dropped to 14th place on the standings with 17 points from 13 matches.
Lobi Stars: Kayode Olufemi, Bunde Moses, Ebube Duru, Chinda Kaka, Zango Umar, Ekene Oliseme, Saka Ayo, Ogunye Austin, Kadiri Samad, Aliassou Sanou and Mbah Ezekiel.
Substitutes: Atsaka David, Aigjojuvwemo Bright, Tyavkase David, Itodo Cletus, John Johnson, Manir Ubale and Ojo Tolupe
Rivers United: Emeka Nwabulu, Markson Ojobo, Doumbia Zoumana, Emeka Atuloma, Festus Austine, Samson Gbadebo, Obomate Frederick, Emeka Ogbugh, Osita Chikere, Oche Salefu and Bamba Bakary.
Substitutes: Robert Cole, Ali Chiwendu, Bello Ikeleji, Afolabi Sunday, Weli Christian, Malachi Ohawume and Kanoute Abdoulaye.