From Abel Leonard, Lafia
Nasarawa United stunned Sokoto United in a dramatic penalty shootout at the Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna, to win their round of 32 Aiteo Federation Cup tie 11-10 on Wednesday evening after regulation time ended 1-1 apiece.
In a pulsating encounter that saw many missed chances, it was the second division side that opened scoring as early in the 16th minute through Uche Collins after right full-back, Abubakar Abdullahi was dispossessed.
Adamu Hassan had the ball at his feet but a poor touch and a quick reaction from the goalkeeper, George Abine, averted an immediate equaliser.
The NNL side would go on to dominate possession throughout the first-half of the game with Nasarawa United struggling to find their rhythm, even though Manga Mohammed came close to scoring from a dead ball situation in the 43rd minute.
After receiving some pep talks during the break, the Solid Miners made a blistering start in the reversed half, reminding their opponents the stuff they are made of.
In the 49th minute, Chinedu Ohanachom found himself inside the box but his acrobatic effort went off target.
Shortly after effecting some changes, United won a penalty off a corner kick. And a minute after coming in for Ikenna Offor, Sunday Okereke summoned the courage to draw parity from twelve yards.
Sokoto United seemed to weather the storm and pushed forward to reclaim the lead and almost did, but were unlucky as their dangerous ball cannoned off target.
Despite multiple goalscoring opportunities, neither side was able to increase the tally as the scoreline remained unchanged till the final whistle.
Penalty shootout was to determine which team advanced to the next round. Nasarawa United missed two of their first five kicks, and Sokoto United didn’t perform any better as score was put at 3-3 apiece.
It was during the tie-breaker session that the Solid Miners won the tension-soaked encounter, 11-10, with fast-rising sensation, Nentaka Bangs, calmly scoring the deciding goal as Ajiji Gimba ballooned his team’s final spot kick over the bar, sparking wild celebration among the Solid Miners’ players, coaching, management and backroom staff as well as a handful of their supporters.
Recall that the FA cup had giving Nasarawa United their greatest agony when they lost on penalties to Bayelsa United in the final in Benin City, Edo State, a year ago, has now offered a great step ahead in their quest to win it this term.
Nasarawa United will now face Insurance of Benin who recently gained promotion to the elite domestic league, the NPFL, at the Enyimba FC Stadium, Aba, Abia State, on Saturday, 6th August, 2022, for the round of sixteen clash.
Both teams faced each at the round of 32 last year, with United winning 3-1 in Enugu.
In an interview after the match, Nasarawa United coach, Bala Nikyu said “Well, the Challenge Cup is a game of tension. It’s not like the league that you will lose today, and maybe win tomorrow – in the Challenge Cup, if you lose, you are out of it.
“It’s not an easy game for us today because we had to come from behind to draw level and win a nervous and lengthy penalty shootout.
“We began to rehearse penalty shootout even before today’s game because we knew anything could happen in a game like this, and we are grateful that it worked for us.
“Sokoto United are a very, very good side, and you know they are fighting seriously to gain promotion to the elite league.
“Our aim is to play in the final of the Aiteo Cup this year, because we missed it last year. I think that’s the only way to rate our performance this season.”
Also speaking Sokoto United Coach, Sule Isah Oroji said “Actually, that’s just the game. Unfortunately, I won’t talk about the referee. He did what he knows how to do best.
“But I think he was hard on us, however, I wish Nasarawa United the best, because they are a good side with bunch of great players.
“I give credit to the Coaches who recruited the players.”