Enyimba returned home with a win over Cara Brazzaville to reach the quarter-finals of the CAF Confederation Cup.
Fans of Enyimba got a whiff of the sweeping freshness that greeted them when they stepped inside the Enyimba International Stadium in Aba on Tuesday, August 29.
It was a welcome sight and a wonderful feeling. New, lush green pitch, clean blue seats. For almost three years, this was everything they wanted and waited for.
For three long years, Enyimba, one of Nigeria’s most successful club sides played away from home. They played in Port Harcourt first and then Calabar, but never felt at home at any of these cities.
Fans, players and everyone connected to the club could relate to the popular maxim ‘no place like home’.
Oh, they missed their home. Those three years away were furstrating.
After winning the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) title in 2015, they finished 10th the next season after managing just 12 wins at home.
Things got better in Calabar, their home for the next season (2017) when they finished third with 17 home wins.
It was only a slow start that stopped Enyimba from not winning the title that season after a strong finish.
“We had so many distractions at the beginning of the season and playing away from home as not been helpful either,” then coach of Enyimba Gbenga Ogunbote told Pulse Sports after their goalless draw away at MFM FC in August 2017.
Enyimba had been very good in that game, holding the ball well and dominating possessions. Ogunbote believed they deserved a better result that evening at the Agege Township Stadium in Lagos.
“If we had been playing in Aba, we would have been on top of the table By now,” Ogunbote also said about their form that season.
On the continent, they crashed in the group stage of the CAF Champions League not help by their poor home form. They lost to Zamalek at home and won only one home game to finish third in Group B.
So far this season, they have won nine out of their 12 home games at the UJ. Eugene Stadium in Calabar and there is cause to be optimistic as they finally return home.
But as the NPFL season continues to be in limbo, Enyimba on Tuesday, August 29 made a long-awaited return to their home with a place in the quarter-finals of the CAF Confederation Cup at stake.
“I’m happy to play in the Enyimba International Stadium, the original home soil for Enyimba football club," captain Mfon Udoh said.
Along with the euphoria of a return to their spiritual home, Enyimba had the chance of making the night more memorable with a win against Cara Brazzaville which would see them into the quarter-finals of the CAF Confederation Cup.
They needed just a win to seal qualification and with their fans behind them, they came off the block for wave after wave of attack.
As the rain poured on the renovated ground, the chances followed for Enyimba but they kept missing.
Farouk Mohammed tried, so did Sunday Adetunji, Abdulrahman Bashir, Andrew Abalogu. Stanley Dimgba came close and when Odoh hit the upright in the 70th minute, it looked like it was going to be a luckless evening.
There was still hope. Odoh stepped up again to hit a free kick in added time, this time from the right, it hit the upright again but Wasiu Alalade pounced on the follow up to score, sending the home fans into wild celebrations.
“What a night,” Enyimba official Twitter account said.
“The atmosphere in Aba right now is electrifying. The fans don go 'Gaga'.,” journalists Adepoju Tobi Samuel wrote on Twitter.
It’s been a long, nomadic journey for Enyimba. After almost three years when former captain Chinedu Udoji of blessed memory scored in a 1-0 win over Kwara United, Alalade’s goal has new vigour into Enyimba season.