For Rivers United, the 2017 season would be one to forget as the club escaped relegation by whiskers.
Fresh from finishing the 2015/2016 season as League Runners Up, the pride of Rivers looked forward to the new season with lots of promise and had hoped to better their last season’s performance by possibly winning the league.
But it turned out to be different as the distraction of continental football, first the CAF Champions League and then the CAF Confederations CUP coupled with internal wranglings between the Club’s technical crew and player’s meant the Club were basically playing catch up all through the season.
Knocked out of those two continental tournaments by a whimper, the pride of Rivers failed to capitalise on outstanding matches highlighted by a 0-1 loss at home to Sunshine Stars.
Their woeful performances away from home despite their near impressive start to the season proved to be their Achilles heel yet again.
But on Match Day 33 after conceding a 92nd equaliser against Katsina United in Port Harcourt, the club saw themselves languishing in the relegation zone of the NPFL.
And so heading in to an away tie against Remo Stars at Ijebu Ode, a win was all that was needed which looked like a tall order considering that the Club was yet to record a win away from home.
The Club needed a hero, a man who could help them avoid relegation and that man was Bernard Ovoke – the same player who scored nine goals in the league for Rivers United.
In Ijebu Ode, Ovoke conjured a magical free-kick from 35 yards to give Rivers United the lead and proved to be a ‘bone in the neck’ of the Remo Stars defense throughout the encounter to seal a 3-1 getting a precious 3 point away from home.
Against Enyimba on Matchday 35 in Port Harcourt, Ovoke converted yet another free kick from 25 yards after just six minutes with Kanoute getting the second and ensuring Rivers United won the game 2-1 against an Enyimba team eyeing a Continental ticket.
Although he missed the away trip to league winners Plateau United, the form of the team inspired by Ovoke’s resurgence ensured they got another valuable away point.
Back to Port Harcourt against Gombe United on match day 37, it was Ovoke again to the rescue as his calmness saw him convert twice from the penalty spot. Sakin’s belter ensured Rivers United got a 3-0 win and sat on 12th position with 52 points.
Despite starting the last game of the season, Rivers United saw themselves thrashed 4-1 by Abia Warriors. But results from Lokoja where Niger Tornadoes defeated Shooting Stars 2-0 and ABS FC’s loss in Lafia ensured the club formerly named Dolphins FC will still play in the NPFL next season and had one man to thank, Bernard Ovoke.
Ovoke’s 4 goals in 3 games translating to 9 points proved vital to the Pride of Rivers beating the drop and the stats are there to prove it.