Lobi Stars on Sunday, June 12, overpowered fellow strugglers Heartland with two second half goals from Barnabas Imenger Jnr and Ifeanyi Ogba in the NPFL Week 33 match at the jampacked Aper Aku stadium Makurdi to take a giant step out of the drop zone.
In an ill-tempered game characterized by inordinate delays from the visitors who used every opportunity to disrupt the flow of the match, referee Marwan Bala from Sokoto State ensured every minute of the match was played according to the rule books.
Despite the avalance of dirty tricks deployed by Heartland, the game would have been a goal harvest, if fortune had smile on Lobi Stars as the volume of near misses defiled count.
Lobi Stars would have taken an early lead in the 6th minute when converted Odinaka Francis found left- footed rookie, Adams Olamilekan on the right who in turn made a dribble run and eliminated Okon Samuel who swiftly followed him and brought him down in the penalty box.
The eagle-eyed referee wasted no time as he promptly pointed to the penalty spot with an accompanying yellow card to Okon.
The visitors protested the referee’s decision for at least three minutes after which Chinoso Okonkwo stepped forward to take the spot which was saved by the legendary Chijioke Ejiogu who dived in the right direction.
Ejiogu who claimed he was injured in his attempt to save the peanlty spent several minutes on the ground and was attended to by the medical team and in the course of ‘managing’ the goalkeeper’s injury, a Heartland medical staff was red carded probably for using a foul language against the referee.
Two minutes later, goalkeeper Ejiogu went up to save an aerial ball from John Lazarus’ throw-in, lost the tussle and aggrevated the injury. He was stretchered out and replaced by another ex-Enyimba goalie Godwin Paul.
Lobi Stars pressed forward persistently but the over anxious trio of Barnabas Imenger Jnr, Chinonso Okonkwo and Adams Olamilekan kept missing chances upon chances to end the first half goalless.
The “Shoe get Size” boys came back smoking as if their life depended on the game and got another penalty kick in the 49th minute when Okonkwo went in to aid a David Tyavkase’s shot and was brought down in the goal area.
Again, , it took another six minutes of needless protest by the vistors before Imenger stepped up to unmistakably convert the kick in the 55th to put Lobi Stars ahead.
Imenger Jnr would have made a brace four minutes later when he intercepted a pass from Ebuka Okoro, drove down the left and magically took a twist right wards and left the Heartland defense hapless but his final shot missed the target slightly.
The ‘Naze Millionaires’ reacted to the goal and their efforts paid off in the 66th when Ebuka Okoro raced down the right and delivered a precise cross that was converted by Chukwuma Ndukwu for the equalizer.
After the equalizer, Heartland resumed their delay tactics in order to push the game in the 1-1 situation to the end but the referee remained vilgilant about time wasted.
However, Lobi Stars got the winner 16 minutes into the added time when super sub Onuwa Chukwuka put a through pass to Ogba who speedily drove forward to eliminate the available defence player to place home a low drive to the far right beating goalkeeper Paul for the second goal that eventually gave the ‘Glory to Glory boys’ the 3 points at stake.
The reaction of the ‘Naze Millionaires’ in the last 13 minutes of added time was too late to make a difference as the game ended 2-1 in favour of Lobi Stars.
The visitors ended the match with nine players following red cards to Ebuka Okoro and Chukwu Ndukwu for dissent and unsportsmanlike behaviour respectively.
With the victory, Lobi Stars have exited the drop zone and now occupy 14th position with 40 points from 32 completed games.
Lobi Stars will be on the road to play the half match against Niger Tornadoes on Wednesday June 15 in Abuja en-route Ikenne for MatchDay 34 fixture against Remo Stars.