A valiant performance from competition debutants Vitiaz United saw them hold eight-time champions Hekari United to a goalless draw in Port Moresby yesterday afternoon, a result which saw Vitiaz continue their impressive debut campaign. In the early kick-off, however, Lae City had no problem dispatching Highlands-based side FC Kutubu, hitting eight goals in the biggest victory of the season so far.
On their return from an unsuccessful OFC campaign in Vanuatu, Lae City made several changes to their line-up against the league’s only Highlands-based side, which saw both Ecuadorians dropped to the bench, while Raymond Gunemba was also absent from the first eleven, for unknown reasons: perhaps he was required to serve a suspension for pushing a match official against Vitiaz United; perhaps he was merely rested.
Whatever the reasons for the reshuffle, it worked: Lae were on top within the first ten minutes thanks to a goal from Emmanuel Simon, who remains the side’s most important player. Nigel Dabinyaba doubled their lead before half-time, and the reigning champions went into the break looking fairly comfortable at 2-0.
However, after the game resumed, the floodgates opened. Alu Awi and Albert Morgan Jr, both of whom were brought into the squad for this match, scored Lae’s third and fourth goals respectively, while Simon hit Lae’s fifth just after the hour mark. Karesa Morris got one back for FC Kutubu, but any glimmer of hope that goal provided was erased after substitute Abdias Aguirre scored Lae’s sixth, before Morgan rounded off an exceptional performance by hitting two late goals to seal his hat-trick.
The result put Lae top of the table temporarily on goal difference, but the biggest match of the day was still to come: top-of-the-table Hekari United were set to face third-placed Vitiaz United in a potential banana-skin for the eight-time champions: Vitiaz had already secured victories over Lae City and Tusbab Stallions and had only been defeated once all season, by FC Bougainville.
A draw would see Hekari return to the top of the table, and as the match wore on, that looked like the most likely result: both sides showed some excellent touches in the midfield and some well-executed set pieces, but neither side could find that finishing touch, and the game ended 0-0, casting doubt over the efficiency of Hekari’s forward line: Lae have now scored 28 goals, ten more than Hekari, but Hekari’s defence is water-tight: they’ve only conceded three goals to Lae’s eight. The two sides meet next weekend in the final round of the first half of fixtures for the season. What will happen when Lae City’s incredible forward line meets Hekari’s mean defensive system?
The draw means that Hekari’s lead at the top of the division is cut to one point, with Lae in second and Vitiaz third, a further two points behind Lae.
Below that, Tusbab Stallions cemented their fourth-placed position with a 5-0 away victory in Port Moresby against Star Mountain. Stallions, who now sit five points clear of fifth-placed FC Bougainville, were buoyed by league-leading goalscorer Stahl Gubag, who hit two more goals to bring his season tally to eight, as well as a brace from Graham Yamre and a cherry-on-top late fifth from Papalau Awele, who hadn’t scored since the opening day of the season.
In the bottom half of the table, Gulf Komara secured an important 4-0 victory away at Morobe Wawens in Lae, which saw them rise three places to 6th. Goals were scored by Rupa Emil (2), Pokana Kopi and Numa Kila, while FC Bougainville and Morobe United played out an entertaining 2-2 draw, which helps neither side in their faint hopes of a tour four finish. Bougainville, who were without leading scorer Jonathan Allen, were trailing 1-0 at half-time thanks to a Bruce Tiampo goal, but were able to produce an impressive comeback in the second half thanks to goals from Gregory Togubai and Philemon Eaka to lead 2-1. However, a Henry Gawi equaliser for Morobe United meant the spoils were shared between the two sides.
Lae City 8-1 FC Kutubu
Morobe Wawens 0-4 Gulf Komara
Hekari United 0-0 Vitiaz United
Morobe United 2-2 FC Bougainville
Star Mountain 0-5 Tusbab Stallions