Crunch Match Between Vitiaz and Hekari as PNG NSL Enters Final Stretch

Second-placed Vitiaz United and third-placed Hekari United will go head-to-head this weekend in Port Moresby in a match which could have huge ramifications on the recipient of this year’s Papua New Guinea National Soccer League Minor Premiership.

With four games to go after this weekend’s fixtures, Hekari United will find themselves six points behind Vitiaz United should they lose this weekend, with very little time to claw back that deficit. However, with experienced defender Koriak Upaiga returning from injury, and Raymond Gunemba and Nigel Dabinyaba having both scored their first goals since returning to the side in last week’s 6-0 win over Kutubu, Hekari will feel like things are falling back into place at just the right time.

With both sides boasting the best firepower in the league – Vitiaz’ Jonathan Allen and Mathew David each have nine for the season, while Hekari’s front three of Gunemba, Dabinyaba and Kolu Kepo have 20 between them – it could be a goal-fest, although Hekari also have the honour of having the best defensive record in the division so far, having conceded only 7 goals in thirteen games.

Raymond Gunemba scored two goals for Hekari United last week against FC Kutubu. Photo: PNGFA

In last week’s victory against FC Kutubu, Hekari manager Eric Komeng shuffled the midfield trio, switching out Gregory Togubai and Michael Foster for Willie Gia and Wira Wama, a move which allowed Muta more flexibility in a creative attacking midfield role. How Komeng sets out his midfield against Vitiaz could be key to where Saturday’s three points will go.

Whichever way the game goes, Lae City will be feeling as if the pressure is off them slightly this weekend. They kick-off at the same time as Hekari and Vitiaz – 11am – against FC Kutubu in Lae, so we’ll know the standings going into the final four matchdays well before the end of play on Saturday. Lae must be feeling confident after their 9-2 victory over managerless Bougainville last weekend, but despite their nine goals, they still lack an out-and-out striker, something which may come back to haunt them once the playoffs come around. Unless they get massively complacent, however, expect Lae to run out comfortable winners against Kutubu on home soil.

Eliud Fugre (left) has played a key role in Vitiaz’ successful midfield this season. Photo: PNGFA

The 1pm kick-offs and the main game at 3pm mainly concern the battle for fourth place – and the final playoff spot – in the league. After last week’s results, out-of-form Tusbab Stallions find their position in the playoffs massively under threat, and they will want to recover from a run of three games without a win against Star Mountain in Lae this weekend. Star Mountain have looked in decent form since the restart, having taken points off Vitiaz United three weeks ago, but they will be travelling to Lae for the game, which should swing the advantage in Stallions’ favour. Young Stallions will be looking to the Wadunah brothers once again to take control of the midfield, something which they should find a little easier against Star Mountain than they did against Fugre et al last week.

In Port Moresby, FC Bougainville and Morobe United, who are 8th and 9th in the table respectively, will both be looking for a result which takes them away from the bottom of the table. There is still time for either side to make a playoff push, but a win this week would be crucial to those hopes. Morobe United’s biggest problem is putting the ball in the back of the net: they have 14 goals in 13 games, the lowest in the league, and their top goalscorer, Emmanuel Simongi, isn’t even at the club anymore, having moved to FC Kutubu during the transfer window. No-one else in the side has more than two goals this season. On the other hand, Bougainville are in chaos after the departure of Percy Mataio – something which still remains shrouded in mystery – and looked dreadful last week against Lae City. Surely Morobe United won’t have a better chance for the rest of the season to get some goals on the board?

Gulf Komara’s Ilagi Geno scored a brace to see off Morobe United last week. Photo: PNGFA

In the 3pm kick-off, Gulf Komara host Morobe Wawens in a crucial playoff-chasing match. Komara, in 5th, and Wawens, in 6th, have both struggled with consistency this season, and both have managed far better results at home than when on the road. This would suggest that Komara will get the win due simply to home advantage, but the loss of skilful winger Donovan Murray and young star centre-back Carlos Onne to other teams has seen them struggle to get off the mark since the restart – last week’s win against Morobe United was their first since the resumption of play post-COVID lockdown. Wawens haven’t won a game away from home all season; now would be a good time to start, but a win for Komara, coupled with a defeat for Tusbab Stallions, will see the Gulf-based side move into 4th place in the table. Can last week’s hero Ilagi Geno score some more crucial goals for Komara?

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