Papua New Guinea National Soccer League reigning champions Lae City FC found their scoring boots this weekend in Madang after putting five past Morobe Wawens to go joint top of the league, while young guns Tusbab Stallions made history in Port Moresby.
Lae City, bolstered by the return of Nigel Dabinyaba and Emmanuel Simon from the Solomon Islands, took a while to find the breakthrough against 2018 runners-up Morobe Wawens, but when it came, it sparked a spell of five minutes either side of the break which gave Wawens absolutely no way back into the match.
The catalyst came through perhaps an unlikely source – Alu Awi, who was signed from Morobe Wawens by Lae City this summer, was making his first start for his new club when he slotted away the opener three minutes before half-time. Awi, who is capped three times at U-20 level for the national team, then put in a second goal just before half time to send the champions into the dressing room with a somewhat unexpected two-goal lead.
Immediately after the break this lead was further extended by a well-known figure in Lae City colours: Nigel Dabinyaba got off the mark for the season in the 47th minute to put the champions three up, before late goals from defender Philip Steven and substitute Emmanuel Airem put the game well beyond doubt. Wawens had to settle for a late consolation goal scored by 19-year-old starlet Barthy Kerobin.
Lae’s big win meant that they drew level at the top of the league with exactly the same points, goals scored and goals conceded as arch-rivals Hekari United, who posted a professional 2-0 victory over Gulf Komara in the 3pm kick-off in Port Moresby. Goals from brothers Ati and Freddy Kepo were enough to see Hekari pick up their third straight victory, and condemn Komara to their third straight defeat.
In the early kick-off in POM, Star Mountain and Morobe United picked up their first points of the season in a well-fought 2-2 draw. Both teams will be delighted to get off the mark for the season, with Star Mountain posting goals from Patterson Elijah and Daniel Orim, while Morobe responded with strikes by Emmanuel Simongi and Gabby Yanum.
Over in Goroka at the National Sports Institute, FC Kutubu lost for the first time at home against in-form Vitiaz United, with most of the action coming in the opening five minutes. Russell Nirik scored his third goal of the season in the second minute to put himself temporarily at the top of the goalscoring charts – a position he would share with three other players by the end of the day. However, Kutubu pegged the visitors back almost immediately, with veteran Samuel Kini burying the ball in the back of the net just two minutes later. A tentative clash followed, which was eventually settled by Eliud Fugre’s third of the season, coming in the 70th minute. Vitiaz, alongside Lae and Hekari, have also won three out of three so far, and are becoming somewhat of a dark horse.
It was the late kick-off which cast most of the magic on a great weekend of football. The young and talented Tusbab Stallions side, the only side hailing from Madang this season, took their first ever away trip to Port Moresby, and it was a day to remember, as they headed home with a priceless 2-1 victory over FC Bougainville.
Some of the players in the side are so fresh that for many of the players, it was their first ever trip to Port Moresby in their lifetimes, having lived and grown up in and around Madang for all of their lives. With Bougainville boasting seasoned veterans such as centre midfielder Basil Jofari and solid centre back Abel Redenut, you might have forgiven the Tusbab youngsters for succumbing to a more experienced side.
Yet although brothers Ricky and Jason Wadunah are just 19 and 16 years old respectively, they already make up the heart of the Stallions midfield, and in today’s game they showed that what they lack in physical presence, they make up for in sheer energy, passion and tenacity.
However, it was the performance from 20-year-old Stahl Gubag which really caught the eye today, the midfielder scoring a first half brace amidst a flawless performance to give the Stallions a two-goal cushion at the break.
Bougainville, playing at home, did come back stronger in the second half, however, as the tired legs of the Stallions started to show. Jonathan Allen scored his third goal of the season to pull a goal back, and the side representing the Autonomous Region put huge pressure on the Stallions backline in the dying moments. However, the youngsters held firm and came away with a memorable victory.
Next week sees the top three all having ‘away’ games, with Hekari travelling to Lae to face Wawens, while Lae will take on Morobe United in Lae and Vitiaz will be hosted by FC Bougainville in POM – technically home games for all four of the latter sides. Stallions host Gulf Komara in Madang, while FC Kutubu will travel to the capital to play Star Mountain.
For the current league standings, click here.