Vitiaz United continued their fantastic debut season in the Papua New Guinea National Soccer League with a narrow 3-2 victory over Morobe United in Port Moresby on Saturday. With results elsewhere going their way, the club climbed from third to first in the league standings after Lae City drew and Hekari United were surprisingly defeated by bottom-of-the-table Star Mountain.
It was two signings from the transfer window that buoyed Vitiaz United to victory in the 3pm kick-off at the PNG Football Stadium in Port Moresby, with new arrivals Mathew David, from Lae City, and Jonathan Allen, from FC Bougainville, scoring the goals which saw them past struggling Morobe United.
Vitiaz got themselves off to a dream start as David, fresh from the turmoil at his previous club, slotted home in the second minute to put the league debutants ahead. His fellow new arrival, 19-year-old Jonathan Allen, scored a second just after twenty minutes, burying his seventh goal of the season and cementing his position in second place in the race for the Golden Boot.
However, just 60 seconds later, Morobe got one back through Jeremy Yasasa, putting the pressure on the title chasers again. Undeterred, Mathew David buried his second of the game just before half-time, giving Vitaz a two-goal lead at half-time.
After a foul in the box, Morobe midfielder Emmanuel Simongi lashed home a penalty to bring it back to 3-2, but Vitiaz were able to see out the game in a very professional manner, demonstrating why they’ve become real contenders in the title race despite starting out the season as dark horses.
At the same time in Lae, reigning champions Lae City took on visitors Tusbab Stallions in the first game since coach Peter Gunemba was sacked by team owner Ian Chow. With the core of the side having walked out of the club with the manager, the line-up looked a little different for the champions, while Tusbab Stallions had to find a way to cope without former captain Nigel Malagian, who had joined Lae City during the transfer window.
One player who didn’t end up leaving Stallions for the reigning champions was league top goalscorer Stahl Gubag, who opened the scoring for Tusbab Stallions just after half-time. However, Albert Morgan Jr, who had scored a hat-trick in last week’s 8-1 victory against FC Kutubu, equalised for the champions fifteen minutes later, and the score remained tied until the end of the game.
With Lae drawing, Hekari United had a chance to extend their lead at the top of the table in the late kick-off against bottom-of-the-table Star Mountain. Coach Jerry Allen rotated his squad a little bit, bringing in Dave Tomare in goal to replace in-form Ishmael Pole, as well as Joseph Joe ahead of Ati Kepo up front, with Kepo being absent from the squad entirely. Allen also handed debuts to Carlos Onne and Gregory Togubai, signed from Gulf Komara and FC Bougainville respectively during the transfer window.
Star Mountain, meanwhile, had brought in former PNG U23 boss Percy Mataio as their new coach, as well as a handful of new players, and Mataio’s fresh tactics combined with the renewed energy from the players shellshocked Hekari in the opening half. Particularly impressive was Steven Inia, the former Madang FC and Besta PNG United midfielder who has OFC Champions League experience, and who essentially ran the game for the side bottom of the table. It was, however, veteran striker Tau Winnie who put Star Mountain ahead after 34 minutes, and the bottom side held an unlikely lead into half-time.
Upon the resumption of the second half, Hekari tried to wrestle control of the game, but Mountain remained for the most part on top, and could have increased their lead on several occasions in the second half. However, it looked like Mataio’s side had been denied a classic victory in the last ten minutes after Hekari defender Daniel Joe scored a late equaliser with five minutes to go. But Mountain were able to hit back immediately, Taman Romas restoring their lead, and the side were able to hang on to a priceless victory, and condemn Hekari to their first defeat of the season.
Elsewhere, Gulf Komara went fifth after defeating FC Bougainville 2-1 in Port Moresby. Moses Arisib put Bougainville ahead just after half-time, but goals from Ilagi Geno and Numa Kila secured a third consecutive victory for David Aua’s side, who move ahead of Bougainville and four points behind fourth-placed Tusbab Stallions. Finally, Morobe Wawens picked up their third victory of the season despite a spirited comeback from FC Kutubu. Wawens went 2-0 ahead thanks to goals from Ferdallas Namuesh and Teddy Tommy, but veteran Samuel Kini and striker Scott William levelled things up for the Highlanders. Wawens inched ahead through Donatus Bandi before scoring a fourth late on to rubber-stamp the win.
FC Bougainville 1-2 Gulf Komara
Morobe Wawens 4-2 FC Kutubu
Vitiaz United 3-2 Morobe United
Lae City 1-1 Tusbab Stallions
Star Mountain 2-1 Hekari United