Philip Ojonugwa’s 94th minute strike made the difference in the Aiteo round of 64 encounter between JM Liberty of Markurdi and Heartland FC of Owerri.
The pulsating clash took place at the Abraham Ordia Stadium located at the ancestral home of Malabites and Malabresses “Republic of Malabor” University of Calabar Cross River State.
recall that Heartland had in 2012/2013 beat Zamfara United by three goals at the same Stadium, thus The Owerri based side came in to the game with some positive nostalgia.
The Naze Millionaires took the game to the opposition in the first period but falied to break the deadlock. Ojonugwa, Chukwudi Nwaodu Murphy Ndukwu all came close but failed to score.
Emeka Okoro in the 29th minute went past the keeper but couldn’t adjust his body in time to tap in to a gaping goal.
JM Liberty started growing in confidence and in the 40th minute they got a glorious opportunity to hurt Heartland but Nnaemeka Anyanwu took one for his teammates, as he punctured a quick counter attack and got a yellow card in the process.
Coach Erasmus Onuh rang some changes in the second period introducing Nonso Nzediegwu and Chukwujike Jacob for Emeka Okoro and Chukwudi Nwaodu.
The substitution added some impetus to the attack as Nonso’s trickery on the right pegged back the defenders, while delivering some beautiful crosses but Ndukwu falied to apply the finish.
Monday Yakubu in the 62nd minute unleashed a screamer from 35 yards but Melaye saved by whiskers.
Liberty started probing into Heartland’s defense and in the 70th minute they got a good opportunity but Chibuike Nwaiwu stole the ball from the striker as he was about to pull the trigger.
The onslaught increased but Jimoh and Anyanwu made important blocks to protect Heartland’s rear guard .
Heartland was forced into another substitution as Chibuike Nwaiwu left injured in the 75th minute.
Sunday Chinedu came on in the 79th minute to take his place as Heartland made a tactical substitution. Jimoh Gbadamosi had to move in to the enforcer’s position while Sunday Chinedu went in to pair Nnaemeka Anyanwu at the center half position.
Ebejuo Chibueze also came on for Murphy Ndukwu in the 80th minute.
Five minutes later the petite Chibueze Ebejo weaved in through two defenders and in explicably dragged his shot wide from four yards in front of a gaping goal with the keeper rooted to the spot.
The dreaded lottery of penalties was looming. The spectators had resigned to fate that the game was destined for penalties.
The fourth official raised tha board to signal 4 minutes of additional time.
Heartland threw men forward in search of a goal but in the 92nd minute Liberty launched a quick counter attack, eliminated the defenders and had just the keeper to beat but Godwin Paul bravely went for the ball and got whacked in the head in the process.
After the treatment Heartland just lobbed the ball into the opposition territory and got a corner kick.
Officials of Jm Liberty had started to draft their list for penalties when tragedy struck.
Monday Yakubu whipped in the cross, a deflection got it in the path of Ojonugwa who slotted it home in the 94th minute to give Heartland victory in the nick of time.
Reacting after the encounter Coach Erasmus Onuh applauded the doggedness of his team to fight till the last minute.
“I thank my boys for fighting to the end, we missed many chances especially in the first half but they continued the fight till the end”.