Enyimba reached the Caf Confederation Cup quarter-final and eased the pressure on coach Fatai Osho with a 1-0 win over Orlando Pirates on Wednesday night.
Cyril Olisema’s last-gasp effort settled the keenly contested encounter in Aba, which the People’s Elephant had to win to make certain they did not crash out at the group stage of the competition.
All four sides in Group A started the final round of matches with a chance of progressing, and it was ultimately ES Setif and Al Ahli Benghazi who bowed out of the tournament.
This was billed as a must-win contest not only for the two-time African champions’ hopes of competing for the trophy, but also for Osho, whose future came under intense scrutiny after consecutive defeats to ES Setif and Al Ahly Benghazi.
The South Africans showed an intent to win from the first blast of referee Helder Martins de Carvalho’s whistle – getting a corner kick in the first minute – however, Ntsikelelo Nyauza headed Vincent Pule’s kick into the waiting hands of goalkeeper John Noble.
Enyimba’s first chance came in the fifth minute, but captain Stanley Okorom shot tamely at goal after a good work from Orok Gabriel who sped through the visitors’ backline.
Orlando Pirates’ best chance of the first 45 minutes came through Linda Mntambo’s freekick that rattled Noble’s crossbar, before Siphesihle Ndlovu failed to divert the rebound inside the net.
Wayne Sandilands made a brilliant save to keep out an Okorom strike, although the Aba Elephants were certainly improved after the interval and saw another chance go begging when Anayo Iwuala dragged a shot narrowly wide.
Sandilands was again at full stretch to claw away Olisema’s cross before Victor Mbaoma’s follow-up somehow flew over the crossbar and into the stands.
Josef Zinnbauer’s men were more reserved as the contest approached the half-time break, although they had just 46 per cent of the ball and their tactic of relying on the counterattack kept their hosts under proper check.
In the 41st minute, Bucs were hit by an injury setbeck as Tshegofatso Mabasa was stretchered off injured following a challenge by Daniel Darkwah.
Coach Osho made two attacking changes in the second half – bringing in Tosin Omoyele for Mbaoma and Samada Kadiri for Orok – yet, they could not help the scoreline as the Aba giants looked uncoordinated upfront.
Anayo should have put Enyimba ahead four minutes after the hour mark but he could only clip the ball over the bar with just the goalkeeper to beat.
Omoyele thought he’d broken the deadlock in the 90th minute but his effort was cancelled for an offside.
Nevertheless, the NPFL side had the last laugh as Olisema tucked Anayo’s assist past goalkeeper Sandilands to send the home side into ecstasy.
With this result, Enyimba finished as group winners while the Bucs slipped into the second spot on the head-to-head rule, although both will take their place in Friday’s quarter-final draw.