Enyimba entered their first leg Caf Confederation Cup quarter-final clash against Rayon Sports amidst significant upheaval following reports that captain and all-time Nigeria Professional Football League top scorer Mfon Udoh’s contract with the People’s Elephant had come to an end.
Initially, the forward was reported to have departed the club, but the club rebuffed those claims by insisting that he'd just been suspended for indiscipline.
Regardless of the setback, Usman Abdallah’s men had to brace up without their talisman, who is steadily returning to fitness after a very lengthy spell on the sidelines with injury.
Sunday Adetunji, Ibrahim Mustapha and the skilful Joseph Osadiaye all started up front, while Wasiu Alalade – scorer of the last minute goal in the final Group C game against CARA Brazzaville, was also given a starting berth.
The opening exchanges saw both sides threaten, with Mustapha going close to scoring twice while Rayon had chances too. However, Theophilus Afelokhai – who was superb between the sticks against CARA last time out, picked up from where he left off.
There was a moment of concern when Adetunji had to be stretched off after feeling some discomfort, but he returned and was able to play for 90 minutes.
It was goalless at halftime, with Enyimba slightly having more possession (51%) with only one shot on target from a total of six.
48’ Criminal miss. Mustapha races onto a pass from Anaemena. The keeper pushes his effort onto the path of Adetunji who blazes over. That should have been 0-1.— ThatEnyimbaFan (@EnyimbaEnyi) September 16, 2018
Enyimba increased the tempo in the second half, with Mustapha and Adetunji beautifully teeing up each other on two different ocassions only to waste the opportunities.
As fulltime approached, it was the Gikundiro that threatened more, and Afelokhai proved to be the most valuable player on the pitch with a series of jaw-dropping saves reminiscent of David de Gea.
It finally ended 0-0 after an end-to-end contest at the Stade Regional Nyamirambo, and though it was a decent result for Enyimba, the failure to convert their chances in Kigali means that the game is still very open.
While coach Abdallah can rely on Afelokhai to put in another top performance in the second leg, it is upfront that the gaffer will have some significant concerns.
The frontmen simply cannot afford to waste chances the way they did in the Rwandan capital on Sunday. A similar failing would play into their opponent’s hands and Rayon could well capitalise.
Enyimba need to work on building momentum by scoring early rather than leaving it late as they’ve had the habit of doing.
Although it did not appear that Mfon Udoh was missed, he's such a key figure both as a captain and a goal threat, that his return could be central to Enyimba's success.
Three minutes to be added. Can we do a Djoliba here? #CAFCC— ThatEnyimbaFan (@EnyimbaEnyi) September 16, 2018
The Nigerian giants might have the comfort of playing in their newly refurbished home in the second leg, but it's imperative that they don't rely on their domestic advantage and get complacent.
It should not be forgotten that Rayon were dangerous on the road during the group stage, winning once and drawing twice. It was away from home that they showed their greatest strength, and they’ll be raring to go this Sunday.