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For the thousands of spectators that watched the last fixture on Day 1 of the 2019 NPFL Championship Playoffs between last season winners, Lobi Stars and 2018/19 season’s surprise package FC Ifeanyiubah, the Benue side stood out for  the incredible fitness level of their players

Lobi Stars recorded the highest score margin of the opening match day at the Agege Stadium in Lagos on Tuesday, winning 3-1 over the dazed Anambra Warriors in a game played under floodlights.

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Right from the very beginning when Samad Kadiri raced clear to finish Kelly Kester’s pass with just about ninety seconds on the clock, Lobi’s players did not stop running even until the final minute.

Right back John Lazarus was at his overlapping best, midfielders Kester and Alex Aghahowa harassed their opponents with incredible sprints throughout the contest while Kadiri and his strike partner Sikiru Alimi ran across the front with gusto and verve.

FC Ifeanyiubah’s young side responded at some point but in the end could not match the physicality and high tempo pressing of the 2018/19 CAF Champions League campaigners.

Head coach Evans Ogenyi believes that his team’s display should not be unexpected considering the level they came from at the CAF Champions League.

“You know we just came back from the continent even though it’s unfortunate that we couldn’t go beyond the group stage but then we’ve been able to restore Nigeria’s second slot in the CAF competitions and the experience was valuable,” said Ogenyi.

“If you’re not fit, you cannot play at that level. So we’ve been servicing all areas of fitness because we know that at the end of the day, it will actually take us far.”

In “servicing” their fitness, Lobi Stars had camped in Ijebu-Ode, near Lagos for the past twelve days and the closed camping system has helped them to condition their players in the right frame of mind for the season-ending competition.

Ogenyi, who served as the first assistant coach under the late Solomon Ogbeide and is now in his third stint as head coach of his state club, also praised his players for the victory over FC Ifeanyiubah, insisting that the 2016 Federation Cup winners were not easy to deal with.

He continued: “It’s not an easy win. Any team that has qualified for this stage is not a pushover.

“For you to qualify for this playoff, you should be congratulated and I told my players at half time that we needed to up our game because at the end of the competition, goals permutations can come to play.

“I saw 2-2 (between Pillars and Akwa United) and I saw 1-0 (Enyimba vs Rangers) so if you have the opportunity to win, you need to win convincingly so I give kudos to my boys for raising the bar in the second and we scored two more goals to record the biggest win today (Tuesday).”

Lobi’s second game in the round-robin tournament will come up against Rangers, a fellow continental campaigner on Thursday. The Flying Antelopes from Enugu have found Lobi Stars a tough nut to crack in recent matches and Ogenyi is hoping his side builds on Tuesday’s win.

“You must take each match as it comes, we have played ourselves before and at this stage the result could go either way but then we hope to build on what we have started on Tuesday,” said the former Bayelsa United and Jigawa Golden Stars head coach.

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