Title holders Rangers suffered a 0-1 defeat at Rivers United while Kano Pillars hit Enyimba 3-1 in a feisty contest before a packed Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano.
Rivers United needed just 58 seconds to race into the lead in one of the two big games of Sunday in the top division in Nigeria. Former Nasarawa United midfielder Esosa Igbinoba scored what turned out to be the winner for Rivers United.
In other games
The game in Kano produced three goals in the last 30 minutes plus a sending off in a dramatic finish.
The talking point before the contest was Pillars head coach Kadiri Ikhana naming a back-four of former Enyimba players. Chinedu Udoji, Bala Zakka, Emmanuel Anyanwu and Idris Aloma started in the defence of Pillars.
Kabiru Balogun opened the scoring on 24 minutes when his free kick, with a huge deflection, wrong-footed Enyimba goalkeeper Theophilus Afelokhai who made a return to his old stomping ground.
There was no more scoring in the first half but it took 16 minutes for Pillars to double their lead through Balogun after a long punt of a pass over the Enyimba defence freed the former Ikorodu United man with just Afelokhai to beat.
It was the third league goal Balogun would score against the Peoples Elephant in three appearances against them with the other for Ikorodu United in September 2016 in their 3-2 win.
Matters at the Kano stadium got interesting when referee Adebimpe Quadri signalled for a spot kick to Enyimba after Udoji was ruled to have handled the ball in his box. The Pillars defender was sent off and Stephen Chukwude stepped up to score on 69 minutes to cut the deficit for Enyimba.
With Pillars now at a numerical disadvantage, it was expected that Enyimba had a new lease of life to play themselves back into the contest. Ikhana then brought on Adamu Mohammed and Joel Djondang in attack and defence, and whatever his intention was worked magic as Enyimba did not make their one-man advantage count.
In added time, Gambo Mohammed, playing for the first time in two weeks after recovering from injury, latched onto Zakka’s long pass. His first attempt came off the post and he made no mistake from the rebound.
ABS FC, MFM FC, Lobi Stars, Akwa United and Sunshine Stars enjoyed 1-0 wins over Katsina United, Remo Stars, Gombe United, El-Kanemi Warriors and Wikki Tourists respectively.
Babangida Chindo’s first-half strike was enough for ABS FC to claim a sixth win of the season while Stephen Odey scored his seventh league goal of the season for MFM in the southwest derby against struggling Remo Stars.
Birthday boy Anthony Okpotu scored an early goal to hand Lobi a fifth league win just as Ibrahim Alhassan left it late to net the winning goal on 82 minutes for Akwa United to end El-Kanemi Warriors’ winning streak.
Ambrose Onyema was the hero for Sunshine Stars as his goal was enough to see off Wikki.
Shooting Stars Sports Club (3SC) had to rely on a 70th-minute spot kick converted by Adebayo Abayomi to cancel Ibeh Johnson’s first-half goal for Plateau United. The game ended 1-1.
The southeast derby between FC Ifeanyiubah and Abia Warriors produced four goals. Sunday Adetunji gave Warriors the lead on 19 minutes before Stephen Eze equalised for FC Ifeanyiubah 12 minutes before the break.
Former Nigerian under-17 winger King Osanga gave FC Ifeanyiubah the lead on 65 minutes but it lasted only 14 minutes before Chinedu Ozor turned in the equaliser for Abia Warriors to finish the game at 2-2.
FC Ifeanyiubah have never beaten Abia Warriors in the Nigerian top flight.
Niger Tornadoes despatched Nasarawa United 2-0 with Musa Wakili and Ebenezer Odeyemi getting the goals.