On the weekend in which the most anticipated clash of the Papua New Guinea National Soccer League season between eight-time champions Hekari United and five-time reigning champions Lae City took place, the real winners of the weekend were third-placed Vitiaz United, who closed the gap on the top two with a win against Morobe Wawens while Hekari and Lae were unable to be separated.
The match of the day between Lae City and Hekari United took place at 3pm at Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium in Lae, and the stadium was packed to the rafters for the third and final game of the day.
The two sides were evenly matched throughout, with Hekari taking after around 20 minutes after Brazilian import Vinicius converted a spot kick, with his effort hitting the bottom of the crossbar before dipping past the goal-line. Hekari held on to their narrow lead until half-time, but chances to score for both sides were few and far between, with the wet conditions in Lae affecting both sides’ ability to skilfully play the ball.
In the second half, Emmanuel Simon levelled up the scores ten minutes into the second half with his sixth goal of the season, also from the penalty spot. However, Lae’s chances of holding onto a draw were dealt a blow shortly afterwards when Emmanuel Airem was sent off for a second bookable offence. However, the Lae City defence, which has looked exposed at times this season, tightened up, and that, combined with Hekari’s profligacy in front of goal, meant the two sides went home with a spare of the spoils.
The draw means that Vitiaz United, who remain third, have closed the gap between themselves and the top two after a narrow 1-0 victory away in Lae against Morobe Wawens. Wawens, who had lost three matches in a row without scoring before this game, took high-flying Vitiaz by surprise in the first half with their attacking, possession-dominating football, but they were unable to make the most of their excellent first-half spell. With the game seemingly ebbing out into a draw, Vitiaz’ Joshua Talau scored the decisive goal against the run of play in the second half, giving Vitiaz a vital victory and keeping the pressure on the league leaders.
With the season half-finished now, Hekari United retain their lead at the top by just a single point after going unbeaten in the opening half of the season, drawing two games, against main rivals Vitiaz and Lae. Lae are second, ahead of Vitiaz on goal difference despite losing 2-1 to the debutants in February, while Vitiaz are third, with their only defeat having come against FC Bougainville.
In the early kick-off in Lae, visiting Tusbab Stallions were unable to make the breakthrough against draw-specialists Morobe United, securing a 0-0 draw which is semi-useful for both sides. Stallions go into the second half of the season comfortably in a playoff spot but six points from any sort of continental qualification, while Morobe United have lost just one of their last five games, a springboard to what could be a decent second half of the season for them.
Focus was away from the capital Port Moresby this weekend, as the most important games took place in Lae. However, there was still some significant action taking place: Tau Winnie scored his first goal of the season for Star Mountain against FC Bougainville, but the side were unable to hold on to their lead, as Arneil Passam equalised for the hosts in the second half, giving both sides a point. In the 3pm kick-off, Gulf Komara pulled away from the bottom four with a comfortable 2-0 victory against visiting FC Kutubu, with Kila Gapi and Numa Kila scoring the goals for the home side.
Morobe United 0-0 Tusbab Stallions
Morobe Wawens 0-1 Vitiaz United
FC Bougainville 1-1 Star Mountain
Lae City 1-1 Hekari United
Gulf Komara 2-0 FC Kutubu