Yeni Malatyaspor probably left Medical Park Arena not knowing what had hit them. The club from Malatya had raced into an early lead and planted the notion of a shock being on the cards against their fourth-placed hosts.
However, Anthony Nwakaeme, who equalized and assisted the winning goal, had other ideas, with his impact palpable as Trabzonspor mounted a 2-1 fightback. As has been the case in the last few weeks, the forward has taken Black Sea Strom's season by the scruff of the neck in their battle to beat Besiktas to third place, playing out of his skin and delivering the end product in the final third by measure of goals and assists.
GOOOOOOL Tony Nwakaeme pic.twitter.com/cHn3NE2ZHH— Soner Doksanbir (@snr_db) April 20, 2019
No offense to Nwakaeme, however, but this purple patch was unforeseen.
In all fairness, that’s not because he’s incapable, but rather, a consequence of how sudden and unexpected it’s come about. Despite getting off to a great start in his second game for Black Sea Storm with a brace and assist in the 4-0 hammering of defending champions Galatasaray, Unal Karaman subsequently overlooked him for a prolonged period.
The former Hapoel Be’er Sheva attacker was frustratingly confined to the bench for almost two months, between September and November, as the Trabzon-based club struggled for any sort of consistency.
It wasn’t until December that Karaman started trusting the striker to feature consistently in the side, but he failed to make a telling impact before the Super Lig’s hiatus at the end of the year, given Karaman slowly integrated him into the side.
Regardless, at the end of 2018, Nwakaeme had scored four times while supplying a couple of assists.
2019 didn’t start on the brightest of notes for the forward, and the only stand-out outing amidst several average showings came in a 1-1 draw at Sivasspor in late January. It remained that way until Trabzonspor visited Kasimpasa at the start of March. The left-sided striker hit a brace against the Istanbul outfit and hasn’t looked back since.
Like a storm appearing suddenly out of a clear blue sky, Nwakaeme has taken his game to a higher level, evidenced by the recent success in the side.
Since March, the forward has been involved in nine of Trabzonspor’s 12 league strikes, a staggering 75 percent of Black Sea Storm’s goals. They have picked up 16 points from six games in that time too, as the chase for a third place finish heats up in the final weeks of the season (they currently sit four points behind Besiktas on 56).
Commendably, Senol Gunes’ side have been in top form as well, matching Karaman’s troops, and the title may be decided by who blinks first.
Nwakaeme’s 10 goals and seven assists represents 33 percent of his team’s 52 domestic goals this term, which isn’t a bad return for a player in his first year in a new league, as well as one who didn’t start getting a constant run of games in the side until December.
However, the German coach’s insinuation in recent days that there will be no new faces in his squad doesn't play into the in-form forward’s favour.
"We have a good spirit as a team since the World Cup, so there's no time to bring in new players," Rohr said.
While the 65-year-old did make the statement in a question regarding the goalkeeping position, one suspects it may apply to the other 20 outfield players.
Although, Nwakaeme truly doesn’t pass as a fresh face, given he played in the Super Eagles’ final World Cup qualifying game away in Algeria November 2017, he hasn't featured for two years and will perhaps be considered as a new player in the eyes of Rohr.
Should the manager leave room for a late arrival...or returnee...or two?
Nwakaeme certainly thinks so.
"I got a chance to play [for Nigeria] and I know I could have scored, but my performance was not enough to completely write me off after one match," Nwakaeme told BBC Sport. "I deserve another chance, and one match should not be a defining moment in my international career."
On the face of it, the wideman’s form is superior to several other attackers in Rohr’s setup. The latest Nigeria squad featured Ahmed Musa, Henry Onyekuru, Moses Simon and Samuel Kalu – who later withdrew.
Of the aforementioned, only Onyekuru is pulling up any trees given his relative success with the Yellow Reds this term.
Musa only recently ended a 13-game drought with a brace and assist in Al Nassr’s emphatic 5-0 success against Al Fateh, Simon is locked in a relegation battle with Levante, while Kalu has been out of action since March.
There’s also the small matter of the Trabzonspor man not coming into the tournament worn-out owing to the fact that he hasn’t featured in a plethora of games this season, as well as the added advantage of having had a mid-season break.
Black Sea Storm travel to Fenerbahce in gameweek 30 seeking a sixth successive win and the productive forward will be out to inflict damage to a side with just one win in their last five. However, with the Yellow Canaries having secured three wins and two draws in their last five at Sukru Saracoglu Stadium, Black Sea Storm have to be wary.
It was Nwakaeme’s form in Israel for Be’er Sheva that led to his maiden call-up in August 2017, and going by recent events in Turkey, the forward is well within his rights to feel he deserves another shot at representing his nation in Africa’s most prestigious international competition.