Sensational striker Charles Atshimene scored a hat trick for Akwa United in their 5-2 mauling of visiting MFM FC at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo in their NPFL Matchday 37 encounter on Sunday to finally secure the NPFL title for the Promise Keepers, ending a 25-year wait for league glory.
With the team on the cusp of winning the title, the LMC and NFF agreed to allow their fans into the stadium for the game for the first time this season due to the COVID-19 situation. The Godswill Akpabio Stadium was a sea of orange as flag-waving fans donned the traditional colours of the club for their final home game of the 2020/21 season. From the first blast of the whistle, the fans made themselves heard as they sang and chanted to boost the home team’s morale.
It took a while, but Akwa United finally got in their stride and some intricate passing involving Mfon Udoh, Charles Atshimene, Ubong Friday and Seth Mayi ended with Mayi striking the crossbar with the MFM keeper beaten. It did not take long thereafter for Akwa United to open the scoring, and it was their main man Atshimene who rose highest to head the ball into the net in the 24th minute after an attempted clearance sent the ball looping into the air. The home side dominated proceedings and did not really look threatened by their opponents and duly added a second goal as Alimi Adebayo under pressure from Atshimene put the ball through his own net from a Samuel Amadi cross on the stroke of halftime to give the Promise Keepers a 2-0 cushion at the break.
The second half started in a similar fashion to the one with which the first ended with Akwa United maintaining control of the game and forcing the Olukoya Boys to chase the game. Club legend Mfon Udoh added a third in the 62nd minute as he caressed a fine finish into the far corner following a pass from Ubong Friday for his eighth goal of the season. MFM did not have to wait long to pull one back as Akwa United defender Olisa Ndah was adjudged to have used his elbow to impede MFM forward Dennis Obasi in the box, and substitute Michael Mbonu scored from the spot in the 68th minute to make it 3-1.
The goal seemed to spur MFM to life as they went into the ascendancy, cutting through the Promise Keepers, who seemed to have momentarily lost their swagger and confidence. The introduction of Adam Yakubu and Wisdom Fernando in place of Seth Mayi and Mfon Udoh proved a masterstroke as Fernando hugged the touchline as an outlet to ease the pressure on his side. A quick ball over the top sent the midfielder free, and his cross was chested in from close range by Atshimene in the 85th minute to restore their three-goal cushion. MFM showed their fighting spirit once again and the hardworking Obasi finally got his name on the scoresheet as he fired past Jean Efala in the Akwa United goal in the 88th minute to make it 4-2. Akwa United and Atshimene were, however, not done scoring as another Fernando pass was calmly slotted beyond the despairing MFM goalkeeper to complete his hat trick in the 94th minute and give Akwa United a 5-2 win.
The win put an end to the NPFL title race, with Akwa United now nine points clear of second-place Nasarawa United who has two games left in the season. Coach Kennedy Boboye made history as he became the first coach to lead two different sides to NPFL glory in the LMC era, having also led Plateau United to their first title in 42 years in 2017. Atshimene became the first player in Akwa United history to score 18 goals in a single season, and the Promise Keepers will play in the CAF Champions League for the first time in their history in the 2021/22 season.