In another exciting weekend of action, Papua New Guinea National Soccer League champions Lae City demonstrated why they are a force to be reckoned with after a 6-1 victory over bottom-of-the-league Star Mountain, but leaders Hekari maintained their excellent defensive record with a 2-0 victory over last-year’s semi-finalists Morobe United.
In fact, it was a good weekend for all the teams in the top five, as they all managed to see off all of their bottom-half opposition. With a two-week break now ahead of the OFC Champions League, it looks like five teams will battle it out for the four playoff places in the second half of the season.
The early kick-off saw Tusbab Stallions, who had suffered two straight defeats, travel to Lae to take on Morobe Wawens, who forfeited their result last weekend due to registration fee issues. In a closely-fought tussle, the match was settled in bizarre fashion in the 4th minute, after Wawens defender Sylvester Waffe played a harmless ball back to his goalkeeper, only for the ball to bobble awkwardly on the pitch and over the ‘keeper’s leg, trickling agonisingly into the net.
Stallions had named a much changed side, with both Wadunah brothers absent in midfield. Elder brother Ricky, 19, was busy enrolling at university, while young brother Jason, 17, had been struck down with illness. With striker Papalau Awele also absent, Stallions started with Ephraim Leo up front, but he too picked up a knock just before half-time, and was replaced by Maskulan Pulung. The chopping and changing seemed to disrupt the Stallions’ rhythm, but solidity at the back meant they were able to hold on to a precious 1-0 victory. Could these unavailabilities affect them more seriously going forward, though?
At 1pm, Lae City hosted Star Mountain in Lae, while Gulf Komara took on Vitiaz United in Port Moresby. In a shock opening quarter of an hour, former Hekari United striker Willie Napina struck to put Star Mountain in front against the champions, but once Nigel Dabinyaba had equalised from the penalty spot and captain Raymond Gunemba had put the home side 2-1 ahead, the floodgates opened.
Lae came out hungry after the break and scored two in quick succession, with Nigel Dabinyaba burying his second before Emmanuel Simon struck just two minutes later to put Lae 4-1 in front. With Star Mountain collapsing, it was soon five, with Simon grabbing his second. Now comfortable, Lae eased off the gas a little, with Gunemba scoring his sixth goal of the season from the penalty spot with five minutes to play.
In Port Moresby, the game between Komara and Vitiaz was the opposite of the game in Lae, with both sides failing to finish off their chances. Komara might feel aggrieved that they haven’t picked up more points so far this season: since replacing coach David Aua with Steven Mune, they have seen a marked improvement in performances and results, and have looked very tight and solid at the back. And they may have a reason to regret their spurned chances this weekend too, having had a handful of near-misses and being denied on multiple occasions by the again impressive Vitiaz ‘keeper, Russell Chris.
Vitiaz also had their fair share of chances, and veteran Eliud Fugre was a maestro in the pivot role, dictating play throughout the course of the game, but neither side could make the breakthrough. That was, until this closely-fought tussle was decided by a moment of magic.
With just seconds remaining, Vitiaz attacking midfielder Yagi Yasasa scored what has already been described as the ‘goal of the season’, dribbling past three defenders before lashing the ball into the roof of the net to give Vitiaz United a crucial, and probably deserved, three points. This was a despite a late sending-off for the newcomers, after a player picked up second yellow card for time wasting.
You can watch Yasasa’s goal right here.
With their three main rivals, Lae, Vitiaz and Tusbab, having all won, it was time for Hekari United and FC Bougainville to complete a clean sweep for the top half of the table. Hekari faced Morobe United in Lae, but they were missing several players, due to unavailability, injury, or being rested. Brazilian import Vinicius Reis was again sidelined by injury and didn’t make the trip to Lae, while the eight-time champions were also without Kolu Kepo and David Muta, and Muta’s absence in particular was noteworthy.
As they have done on several occasions this season, Hekari scored early, with Samoan Vito Laloata putting the Reds in front, but the free-flowing, possession-heavy football that Hekari normally play was somewhat disrupted. Michael Foster, deputising for Muta in the playmaker role, was unable to step up to a slightly different role than he is used to, and as such Hekari made slightly hard work of their opponents. A second goal, scored by Vanya Malagian, was enough to secure victory, but there was certainly something missing without their influential playmaker.
A huge positive remains the performance of Brazilian defender Erick Joe, who has looked assured, calm and comfortable in the defence, managing to slow the game down at crucial moments and allowing Hekari to regain their composure and possession. He will certainly be key to Hekari’s hopes at the OFC Champions League next week.
In the final game in Port Moresby, FC Kutubu travelled to take on FC Bougainville. Bougainville took an early lead through top scorer Jonathan Allen. The youngster, still only 19, has looked impressive so far this season, having scored in each of the opening four gameweeks. This was his fifth of the season, but it was cancelled out by an equaliser from Karesa Morris, who picked up his second goal in as many weeks. The game was locked at 1-1 at half-time.
Midway through the second half, Allen picked up his second goal of the game to go level with Stahl Gubag and Raymond Gunemba at the top of the goalscorer standings, while putting Bougainville 2-1 ahead. Midfielder Basil Jofari once again impressed for the home side, denying Kutubu too many chances to get back into the game, and late on, Bougainville sealed victory with a goal from Daniel Vetali. The side even had a fourth goal in the back of the net in the dying moments, but it was ruled out for offside.
Morobe Wawens 0-1 Tusbab Stallions
Lae City 6-1 Star Mountain
Gulf Komara 0-1 Vitiaz United
Morobe United 0-2 Hekari United
FC Bougainville 3-1 FC Kutubu