What began as a somewhat controversial day in the Papua New Guinea National Soccer League finished with a bang as Lae City saved their own skins with a comeback victory against FC Bougainville in Port Moresby, while league leaders Hekari United surged forward with a comfortable victory against FC Kutubu in Goroka.
The day began with the revelation that Morobe Wawens had not received funding from the NSL for their trip to Port Moresby to play Star Mountain due to being in arrears from the previous season. Wawens therefore were unable to make the trip. It is still unclear whether the game will be forfeited, or the NSL will agree to play the game at a later date.
That was the 1pm kick-off; thereafter we were treated to four 3pm kick-offs across all four NSL venues this season: Tusbab Stallions entertained Vitiaz United at the Laiwaden Oval in Madang; FC Kutubu hosted eight-time champions Hekari United in Goroka at the National Sports Institute; Lae City travelled to Port Moresby to take on FC Bougainville; while Morobe United were visited by Gulf Komara in Lae.
In Madang, what was billed as the game of the day did not disappoint, and in the end was the ‘tale of two keepers’, with the men in gloves playing key roles in the outcome of the match.
Stallions, still reeling from their late defeat against Hekari last weekend, started strongly, dominating possession and wasting several clear cut chances in front of goal. Against the run of play, though, former Wawens striker Randall Passam hit a speculative shot towards Leehan Manasseh in the Tusbab goal, who made a mess of the save, bundling the ball into the back of the net for the opening goal.
Further invigorated, Tusbab continued to attack, and a combination of profligacy in front of goal and some superb goalkeeping from young Vitiaz ‘keeper Russell Chris kept the score at 1-0. Chris demonstrated excellent decision making, meeting long balls almost as a sweeper-keeper to repress any potential Tusbab counter, while showing a safe pair of hands in several key saves towards the end of the half.
Vitiaz grew into the game in the second half, despite Tusbab coming out strongly, and with the balance of play turning in Vitiaz’ favour, last week’s hero Joel Tiampo fired a superb volley into the far corner past the outstretched Manasseh to give his side a two-goal cushion. Thereafter, Vitiaz, growing in confidence, demonstrated solidity at the back and a few choice skills further forward to indicate they were well in control of the game. With Tusbab bereft of ideas, the NSL newcomers were able to close out the match with no real issues.
In Goroka, the game was won almost as soon as it kicked off. Kutubu, who were hoping that home advantage would play a part against eight-time champions Hekari, soon learnt that you cannot switch off for a single moment, as Kolu Kepo fired in his fourth goal of the season within the first ten minutes. Nerves settled, Hekari, who were playing with Brazilian Erick Joe in defence for his NSL debut, quickly scored two more, with winger Patrick Aisa grabbing the second and Ati Kepo adding the third. Just before half-time, a lapse in concentration at the back allowed Morris Karesa to give hope to the hosts, who went into the changing rooms trailing 3-1.
The second half was a quieter affair, with the brief Kutubu revival quelled by a comfortable defensive performance from the league leaders, and shortly before full-time, Koriak Upaiga added the cherry on top of a rather smooth Hekari performance with his second goal in the space of two weeks.
In Lae, a balanced game saw Morobe United and Gulf Komara pick up a 1-1 draw which, in reality, doesn’t help either side with their push towards the playoffs. Jordan Kaven scored his second goal of the season to put Gulf Komara up in the first half, while an Emmanuel Simongi penalty levelled the scores midway through the second half. Both sides remain 8th and 9th respectively.
Having kicked off ten minutes later than the rest of the matches, the game at Port Moresby between FC Bougainville and Lae City gave us drama right to the wire. Lae, who were coming off a shock defeat against Vitiaz last weekend, started both of their Ecuadorian imports, but again fell behind in the first half thanks to a goal from Bougainville attacking midfielder David Mosim, and the one-goal lead remained until half-time.
After coming out for the second half fired up, Lae took a while to find the breakthrough, with talisman and captain Raymond Gunemba hitting the equaliser halfway through the second half. They were not content to return home with a draw, however, and with just over five minutes to go, Gunemba lifted a curling free-kick from a wide position up into the air and over the despairing arms of the Bougainville goalkeeper, the ball hitting the post before ricocheting into the net. The comeback, it appeared, was complete.
However, there were more twists to come. Bougainville, who could have easily collapsed after Lae’s second goal, came forward with the clock ticking down, and sensationally levelled the scores with a goal from central midfielder Gwama Taukuro, his first of the season. With only injury time to go, it seemed as if Lae would drop further points this week.
However, the final twist demonstrated the fight of champions: PNG international Jacob Sabua, who had come on as a substitute midway through the second half, smashed in a winner with the final kick of the game, handing Lae a much needed victory, to the dismay of FC Bougainville and their supporters.
Star Mountain v Morobe Wawens (match not played)
FC Bougainville 2-3 Lae City
FC Kutubu 1-4 Hekari United
Morobe United 1-1 Gulf Komara
Tusbab Stallions 0-2 Vitiaz United
See here the updated standings, results and top scorers of the season so far in the PNG National Soccer League.