Bakary Bamba struck late on from the penalty spot to give Rivers United a share of the spoils against a plucky Heartland side in a tightly-fought match day two Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) contest decided in Port Harcourt on Sunday.
Heartland came with a clear game plan to Port Harcourt – target United from set piece situations and defend stoutly for dear life.
That plan almost worked to near perfection as Heartland scored from their only attack of the game on the quarter hour through Christian Pyagbara who struck with precision from just inside the box after United failed to clear their lines from a well-taken corner.
Heartland didn’t attack again all game long as they sat back, soaked up wave after wave of United pressure and looked on course for what would have been a famous smash and grab.
The near-perfect defensive masterclass however showed signs of frailty at the death as electrifying winger, Bright Onyedikachi dazzled his way into the box and won a deserved penalty as he was brutally upended in the box when poised to pull the trigger.
Bamba’s penalty was pushed against the cross bar by Godwin Amen but the referee promptly ordered for a re-take with the assistant referee on the far side correctly ruling that the Heartland goalkeeper had stepped off his line before Bamba made contact with the ball from 12 yards.
Take two and Bamba made no mistake from 11 metres, slotting low and hard into the bottom corner to give his side a share of the spoils.
United should never have found themselves in trouble in the first place as sustained pressure early on led to what looked like a deserved lead in the third minute only for the effort by Malachi Ohawume to be disallowed.
The Port Harcourt side should have won more handsomely as Heartland seemed content to defend all game long but profligacy and lack of conviction in the final third cost the ‘Pride of Rivers’ dear.
Technical manager of Rivers United, Stanley Eguma said he was not disappointed by the effort of his charges.
“I am not disappointed with today’s game. We played better than our opponents.
“We created a lot of the chances and enjoyed a lot more possession but we were unlucky not to have scored plenty of goals,” Eguma told the club’s official website, www.riversunitedfc.com.ng.
Eguma also discussed the early disallowed goal (United’s second disallowed goal of the season) which proved to be decisive in the eventual outcome of the game.
“We scored a goal which was disallowed by the referee. However, we showed character by coming from behind to get a result.
“If you look at the results from other centres (on match day two which saw only one team record a home win), you will see that the league has changed and we know we will also get a chance to get positive results on the road,” he concluded.
Heartland’s goal scorer, Christian Pyagbara also discussed his performance against the club of the land of his birth.
“We played to the instructions of our coach but unfortunately we drew the match (and that wasn’t what we expected),” Pyagbara said.
Rivers United climbed to eighth on the NPFL log with two points from two matches while Heartland are in 15th with a solitary point after their first two matches.
United will next travel to Nnewi to face FC Ifeanyiubah on match day three.