Hekari United, Lae City and newcomers Vitiaz United won for the second time in Papua New Guinea National Soccer League action this weekend, maintaining their 100% record at the top of the ten-team division. Meanwhile, Tusbab Stallions responded after last week’s opening defeat with a 5-0 hammering of FC Kutubu in Madang.
Port Moresby was the place to be on Saturday afternoon, with three back-to-back fixtures at the PNG Football Stadium in the country’s capital. At 1pm, Star Mountain took on newcomers Vitiaz United, with the former looking to recover from their opening-day defeat to Hekari United, and the latter looking to build on their shock 2-1 victory over Morobe United last weekend.
Mountain got off to the perfect start, with a goal in the third minute from Bisakim Alfred putting them in front. However, their swift start began to slowly unravel, with Eliud Fugre scoring his second goal of the season to equalise for Vitiaz United in the 28th minute. Fugre, 30, has never been capped at full international level despite earning a call-up for some international friendlies in 2014, but earned 4 caps for the U23s side at the 2012 OFC Olympic Qualifying tournament.
With the scores tied at half-time, Vitiaz came out firing in the second half, with pressure on the Star Mountain goal eventually leading to a 55th-minute own goal from Mountain’s Nowe Simon. Russell Nirik put the game to bed in the 68th minute with his second of the season. Nirik, who had been playing for Morobe United as far back as 2011, moved to Vitiaz United this season and scored against his former club on the opening day.
At 3pm, eight-time champions Hekari United took on FC Bougainville in the main game of the day. Both sides had won their opening fixtures, with Bougainville in particular looking to prove they might be able to challenge the big boys this season. It was a slow start for the home side, however, with Hekari’s Kolu Kepo picking up his second goal of the season in the 6th minute. Kepo, who has 4 goals in 6 caps for the senior national team, looks to be a key player in Hekari’s attacking force this season. However, Bougainville responded through 19-year-old Jonathan Allen in the 34th minute, taking the match to half-time all tied up. Allen, who earned his senior international debut in July 2019 against Tonga at the Pacific Games, now has two goals in two league games and looks to be one for the future.
As expected, Hekari came out strongly in the second half, and a mistake in the Bougainville defence led to a Hekari penalty, which was coolly dispatched by Daniel Joe in the 66th minute. Hekari held on for the victory, allowing them to remain top of the table, ahead of Vitiaz United on goal difference.
At 5pm, Gulf Komara hosted Lae City, and a solitary penalty from Raymond Gunemba was enough to seal victory for the reigning champions. After the game, Lae coach Peter Gunemba said that the side need to ‘polish up their attack’, but at this early stage, he will be happy that the side have managed to put together two victories, however narrow they were. As is cliché in football, true champions always find a way to win, even if their football is a little underwhelming.
In Madang, Tusbab Stallions played host to FC Kutubu at 3pm, with both sides having had differing fates on the opening day: Stallions fell to a single goal against Lae, while Kutubu won with the sole goal against Wawens. On Saturday, however, there was a clear gulf in the two sides, with Stallions eventually running out 5-0 victors, thanks to goals from Ricky Wadunah, Stahl Gubag, Morris Devi, and two from Papalau Awele. Awele, 24, has been capped at U23, U20 and U17 level, but has yet to make his full international debut. An impressive season from him at Stallions this year could change that.
In Lae, a huge derby between Morobe Wawens and Morobe United took place, with Wawens triumphing 2-0 thanks to goals from Sombo Goro and Joshua Paget. Morobe United seem to be struggling after the loss of several of their players to Vitiaz, and seem to be well off the pace they usually set for themselves at this early stage.