Fans trooped out in their numbers to come and watch the beautiful game as the Nigerian Professional Football League resumed last weekend, but the one place that left supporters shocked was the Lekan Salami Stadium in Ibadan, where Shooting Stars Sports Club suffered a heavy 3-0 defeat at the hands of FC Ifeanyi Ubah.
Indeed it was a game that took many by surprise, as the Anambra Warriors took the lead as early as the second minute through last season’s top scorer, Godwin Obaje and then added a second through Seka Pascal.
The Oluyole Warriors never found their bearing in the game, despite having more chances to find the back of the net, and even a debatable penalty that was awarded to them was wasted by Adebayo Abayomi.
Ifeanyi Ubah were reduced to 10 men at 2-0 and still managed to find a third through King Osanga via a well-taken free kick.
The result in Ibadan stood out among the weekend's results, with away victories hard to find in the NPFL considering teams' win-at-all-cost mentality at home.
This attitude has slowed down the progress and growth of club football in the country, as it means most teams don’t approach games with the right mindset, which can cost them dearly.
Hopefully, Ifeanyi Ubah’s emphatic 3-0 win, which is the highest scoreline for an away team since June 2015, will serve as a turning point for the NPFL.
The major highlight of the game was that it was totally incident and violent free.
Typically, away wins in the top flight often raise suspicions of refereeing bias in favour of the travellers. This is particularly true of the Anambra Warriors, conisidering the wealth and connections of their owner, Dr. Patrick Ifeanyi Ubah.
However, the refereeing in Ibadan had no bias whatsoever; Shooting Stars were given a penalty and their Nnewi counterparts received a second yellow card, but neither decision led to protest from players, coaches or supporters.
The Oluyole Warriors' supporters remained on their best behaviour despite the embarrassing result, knowing fully well that their team had only themselves to blame for what was a poor display.
Even as the Anambra Warriors' players made their way out of the stadium, the Shooting supporters congratulated the visitors for the well-deserved win.
It was the kind of display of sportsmanship rarely seen in the Nigerian top flight.
It wasn’t a great day for the other south west teams in the division, as Remo Stars and Sunshine Stars lost to Enyimba and Lobi Stars respectively in Shagamu and Akure, but on the flip side, it made it three away wins for the weekend.
Three away victories in one weekend is a good development for the Nigeria Professional Football League, as it's a rare occurence in the division, it hasn’t happened since the opening day of last season.
It would be of great importance if the League Management Company and other football stakeholders' could use the example of the Shooting Stars vs. Ifeanyi Ubah game to demonstrate to teams and fans that away wins or draws are possible without coercion, and that outcomes must be accepted without trouble or violence.
Violence had erupted earlier in the season when Akwa United won 1-0 at Kano Pillars, leaving players, fans and officials injured, while Gombe United keeper Emmanuel Fabiyi was assaulted by his own fans for allegedly allowing Rangers to score a last-minute goal in a 3-3 draw at home.
These kind of incidents only damage the league's reputation.
There were six away wins recorded in the whole of the first stanza of the NPFL season, but to have three in one weekend could be the sign of better and brighter things to come.
It is the hope that concerned parties learn from here in a bid to move the beautiful game forward in Africa’s largest football nation.