Hekari and Lae continue winning streak as Stallions move third

The usual suspects, Hekari United and Lae City FC, continued their unbeaten runs in the Papua New Guinea National Soccer League this weekend, but young guns Tusbab Stallions continue to impress, moving into third with a 3-0 victory over pointless Gulf Komara at the Laiwaden Oval in Madang.

In the 1pm kick-offs, FC Bougainville took on unbeaten Vitiaz United in Port Moresby, while Morobe Wawens hosted eight-time former champions Hekari United in Lae at the Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium.

FC Bougainville were looking to bounce back following consecutive narrow defeats to Hekari United and Tusbab Stallions in weeks two and three respectively, while Vitiaz were hoping to keep pace with the leaders after winning their opening three matches. However, it was Bougainville who struck first, with leading scorer Jonathan Allen drilling in his fourth goal of the season to temporarily lead the goalscoring charts, and to put his side in front after 12 minutes.

Vitiaz pushed back in the stiflingly hot conditions, and were denied an equaliser before half-time after their goal was ruled offside, meaning they would go into the dressing rooms at half-time trailing 1-0.

Bougainville centre-back Richard Mongi (#4) wrestles Vitiaz striker Russell Nirik (#17) for the ball. Photo: PNGFA

The level of football in the second half seemed to drop significantly, as both side suffered in the heat. Joint top scorers Eliud Fugre and Russell Nirik were unable to make an impact in front of goal, and eventually the match was settled in the 75th minute when substitute Gregory Togubai capitalised on a defensive mistake from the Vitiaz backline to seal the win.

It’s only Bougainville’s second victory of the season, following their opening-day win over Gulf Komara, and it sees them stay fifth, one place behind Vitiaz, who drop to fourth.

Having made the journey to Lae for the first time in several years, Hekari United were keen to impress the large crowds that had gathered for the double header at SIKS. Morobe Wawens were host to Hekari this weekend, and the game seemed fairly even in the opening exchanges, with the match still goalless after half an hour. However, in the 37th minute, a Kolu Kepo cross bounced off Wawens defender Donatus Bandi, past the despairing goalkeeper and into the goal, putting Hekari in front – an unfortunate circumstance which, had it been avoided, may have made for a more interesting second half.

The Hekari United starting XI vs Morobe Wawens. From left to right, top row: Ishmael Pole, Ati Kepo, Vanya Malagian, Kolu Kepo, Otto Kusunan, David Muta; bottom row: Koriak Upaiga, Nathan James, Michael Foster, Daniel Joe, Langarap Samol. Photo: Ishmael Pole

As it was, Hekari came out for the second half already leading, and their confidence showed, and grew throughout the second half. Fitter and more disciplined, the former champions wore Wawens down, with Nathan James scoring the Reds’ second on 65 minutes, and Patrick Aisa clinching a third with not long to go.

The win sees Hekari remain top on goal difference, with Wawens dropping a single place to 7th.

FC Kutubu first XI. Photo: PNGFA

3pm saw games taking place in Port Moresby, Lae and Madang in a serious football fest. Somewhat unusually, the match in Port Moresby between Star Mountain and FC Kutubu was the least talked-about: Morobe United v Lae City is a massive local derby, while Tusbab Stallions v Gulf Komara was streamed live on Tumbuna TV.

In reality, though the match in the capital was arguably the most entertaining: winless Star Mountain took the lead in the first half thanks to a goal from William Yumb in the 34th minute, before veteran Andrew Apo equalised five minutes later for the visitors. Pettyshen Elijah scored a second for Star Mountain just before half-time, sending the Tabubil-based side heading to the dressing room leading 2-1. However, Kutubu came out in the second half with a vengeance, with veteran Andrew Apo scoring the equaliser just after half-time, Herry Gulf hitting Kutubu’s third on 69 minutes, and Apo completing his brilliant hat-trick just before full-time to spur the Highlands-based side to a 4-2 comeback victory.

The current standings after Week 4.

The result sees Kutubu move up one place to 6th in the league table, while Star Mountain remain 9th, and Mountain coach will be concerned about the side’s defensive record of 12 goals conceded in four games, which is the worst in the division.

In Madang, the young guns of Tusbab Stallions secured a comfortable 3-0 victory over Gulf Komara in the first live-streamed game of the season. Stallions were led by Stahl Gubag, who scored a brace either side of the break to put the Madang-based side in front. Gubag’s first came from a ball lifted over the top of the sluggish Komara defence, after which Gubag had acres of time and space to bury the ball in the back of the net.

Komara winger Donovan Murray attempts to curl a ball around the Stallions wall. Photo: Tusbab Stallions

Towards the end of the match, Komara conceded a penalty, which substitute Ephraim Leo tucked away with ease. The win sees Tusbab move into third place, while Komara sit rock bottom after four defeats in their opening four matches.

Perhaps the match of the day was between local rivals Morobe United and Lae City. Morobe played host this time around, and were well on top in the first half, pressuring the Lae players on and off the ball and having the lion’s share of possession and shots on target. However, the finishing touch was not there, and they will have been disappointed to go into the break at 0-0.

Undeterred, Morobe came out strongly in the second half too, terrorising the Lae defence, but it was the reigning champions who opened the scoring against the run of play, an Emmanuel Simon shot taking a wicked deflection and finding the back of the net. Thereafter, the sting was taken out of the tail of the Morobe side, who looked flat and dejected. A clumsy foul in the box then led to a Lae penalty, which Nigel Dabinyaba duly dispatched, and after dominating the game, Morobe somehow found themselves heading for a 2-0 defeat.

However, there was to be some late drama: Lae conceded a late penalty, which was buried by Morobe’s Emmanuel Simongi, and with just minutes left, Morobe once again piled on the pressure, and very nearly scored an equaliser at the death. However, the subsequent counter attack led to Dabinyaba being brought down in the Morobe box, and a third penalty was awarded, this one in Lae’s favour. Emmanuel Airem duly obliged with the last kick of the game, sending the Lae fans into raptures.

Lae’s win sees them one place behind Hekari United on goal difference, while Morobe United remain 8th, although their performance this week would indicate that there’s far more potential in the team than their current points tally would suggest.

Results

FC Bougainville 2-0 Vitiaz United
Morobe Wawens 0-3 Hekari United
Star Mountain 2-4 FC Kutubu
Tusbab Stallions 3-0 Gulf Komara
Morobe United 1-3 Lae City

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