Rafael Boumsong scored the winner as Enyimba edged past Egyptian club, Smouha in their first leg, first round Caf Champions League game in Aba on Sunday.
The big news before kickoff was the relegation, to the bench of goalkeeper, Olufemi Thomas with Chijioke Ejiogu preferred in his stead.
Kingsley Sokari produced two moments of stunning quality inside the opening five minutes but was denied on both occasions by equally impressive stops by the Smouha goalkeeper, Mahdy Mohammed Soluman.
In the 20th minute, Enyimba came close again but Etor Daniel’s strike bounced off the inside of the post with Soluman rooted to the spot.
Twice inside the opening 22 minutes, the Smouha goalkeeper went and stayed down, seeming injured after minimal contact with Enyimba forwards as the visitors showed their intent as regards their approach to the game.
Clear cut goal scoring opportunities were few and far between in a highly tactical half.
Smouha’s best chance came in the 43rd minute through Kouqo Hermann who rounded the Enyimba goalkeeper, Ejiogu only to see his goal-bound shot cleared off the line by the Enyimba captain, Chinedu Udoji.
Etor thought he had finally opened the scoring in first half stoppage time but his fierce drive from inside the box just sailed over.
Smouha, always a threat on the break, came close to claiming a priceless away goal a minute after the restart when Amr Elmenofy Abousadaa found himself unmarked in the Enyimba penalty area.
It seemed easier to score than miss but the Smouha forward, seemingly surprised at the absence of attention from the Enyimba defenders, shot well wide from 13 yards.
Enyimba almost responded a minute later but Sokari wasted a free kick from 25 yards.
The home fans soon found their voice when substitute, Raphael Boumsong rose highest in a crowded penalty area to head home past the stranded Soluman in the 56th minute.
Enyimba had several other chances to add some gloss on the result but Smouha defended stoutly to set up a compelling second leg in Egypt.
Speaking to suprsport.com after the game, Enyimba’s media chief, Farriel Allaputa said the People’s Elephant are satisfied with the result.
“We missed a lot of opportunities to score more goals but we are satisfied to take this lead to Egypt for the second leg,” he said.