Port Harcourt - The goalkeeping department of Rivers United
FC is probably the strongest in the Nigeria Professional Football League
Okey Iweanya, the goalkeeper trainer of the club works on a
daily basis with four goalkeepers of very high quality – Sunday Rotimi, Robert
Cole, Abiodun Akande and Femi Thomas.
The competition for a starting shirt is so stiff among this
quartet that even training sessions are approached with the intensity of a Cup
“As a former goalkeeper myself, I must commend these four
young men for the amount of work they put in everyday in training,” Iweanya
told the club’s official website, www.riversunitedfc.com.ng.
“It’s a shame that only one can play at a time because it is
always almost impossible to choose one from the four of them.
“But then, it is a good thing for Rivers United in the end
because I think we have the best goal keepers in the league and this kind of
competition will only bring out the best in them.”
The duo of Cole and
Akande have yet to make the match day squad in any of United’s first four NPFL
matches this term with the coaches seemingly preferring to go with the more
experienced heads at this stage of the season.
Rotimi started the club’s first three league matches against
El Kanemi Warriors, Akwa United and Niger Tornadoes.
He conceded twice in those games and kept a clean sheet in
one (versus Niger Tornadoes on match day three).
With Rotimi finally keeping his first clean sheet of the
season last Sunday, many expected the Stanley Eguma-led technical crew of
United to go with the same in their tricky NPFL fixture away to FCIU three days
Eguma had a surprise up his sleeves.
On match day four, when Rivers United made the trip to Nnewi
to face FC IfeanyiUbah, Thomas got his chance.
He was thrown into the deep end at the fortress (FC IfeanyiUbah
Stadium, Nnewi) and with few giving him a chance to keep a clean sheet in his
very first competitive start of for his new club, the former Enyimba man
covered himself in glory with an exemplary performance nearing perfection.
Also read: Eguma’s genius propels Rivers United
In a display of real quality, Thomas kept the Anambra
Warriors at bay; producing numerous saves right out of the top drawer as United
held out for a share of the spoils.
The best of his saves was recorded in the fifth minute of
added time – the last kick of the game – the final throw of the dice from the
hosts, desperate to snatch a late winner from the jaws of a seeming futile
Last line of defence
United had conceded a free kick from 20 odd yards and
Valentine Nwabili, the FCIU left back famed for his ability to hit a pin head
with venom from ridiculous distances positioned himself behind the ball.
The hearts of Rivers United fans seemed to sink in unison as
the wall formed behind the uncompromising-looking stalwart.
Nwabili did not
He took the set piece with frightening force, hammering past
the United wall expertly and with the ball flying into the top right hand
corner, Thomas produced a gravity-defying save to push the ball away from
danger before it was cleared away by one of his relieved defenders.
The final whistle went seconds later and his teammates,
understandably, mobbed him as they celebrated a hard fought point.
Thomas, in his usual unassuming manner, refused to take the
credit for the point insisting instead that it was ‘down to team effort’.
“They said I am the man of the match? Well, I will rather
say the team deserves that accolade.
“What we did (on Wednesday) was down to team effort and
everyone should be congratulated,” he said.
Thomas is the first to admit that he has to train and play
at a consistently high level to force his way into the Rivers United first team
on a regular basis.
He admits the competition is stiff but says he gets along
with his teammates (fellow goalkeepers) quite well.
“Rotimi is the oldest and most experienced one amongst us
and we all respect him.
“I also get along very well with Cole and Akande. We act
like a band of brothers.
“My objective remains the same. I came to this club to win
trophies and training on a daily basis with my new teammates has already helped
improved my level from where it was last season.
“We will continue to work hard to see that we do well in the
Federation Cup, the NPFL and the Caf Champions League,” he said.
Rivers United are in action on match day five of the NPFL on
Sunday against Lobi Stars at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium, Port Harcourt. For
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- News24 Nigeria