Thomas stakes claim at Rivers United




Football

The goalkeeping department of Rivers United FC is probably the strongest in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).


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 Thomoas.


The competition for a starting shirt is so stiff among this quartet that even training sessions are approached with the intensity of a Cup final.


“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 later.


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.


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 expedition.


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 disappoint.

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.


Healthy competition

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.
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