Lae Edge Ahead After Washout Win as Hekari Hold Vitiaz in Port Moresby

They had to wait an extra two days to do it, but Lae City moved two points ahead of Vitiaz United at the top of the Papua New Guinea National Soccer League this weekend after a 3-1 victory over FC Kutubu, while the clash of the weekend saw Hekari United and Vitiaz United play out a tense 1-1 draw in the capital, a result which helps neither side.

Rain was a problem in the Northern city of Lae on Saturday morning, with the scheduled clash between Lae City and FC Kutubu – which was due to take place at 11am – postponed, while the 1pm clash between Tusbab Stallions and Star Mountain was delayed until 2.30pm.

This gave both Hekari United and Vitiaz United, who kicked off in Port Moresby at 11am, the chance to put pressure on Lae City, with Vitiaz in particular looking for a win that would take them three points clear of the defending champions at the top of the table. Hekari made three changes from the side that faced Kutubu last weekend: Michael Foster replaced Wira Wama in the centre of midfield, Kolu Kepo came in for his brother Ati Kepo, who was omitted from the squad entirely despite his brace against Kutubu, and the returning Koriak Upaiga took the place of Langarap Samol, with Daniel Joe moving into the centre of defence. Vitiaz had the usual suspects all starting – captain Eliud Fugre anchored the midfield with talented youngsters Yagi Yasasa and Jonathan Allen on either wing, and red-hot in-form striker Mathew David up front.

The first half was somewhat confusing, as Hekari had opted to wear their black away kit – as they were technically the away team for the game – while Vitiaz were decked out in their standard blue home kit. This led to a clash of colours that was difficult for those both on the field and off it. That had nothing to do with the first goal, though, which went the way of Vitiaz United: Upaiga tarried on the ball for too long in an innocuous-looking position, and was robbed by Mathias Oyabua; he squared the ball to Jonathan Allen, who hit his tenth goal of the season low beyond Dave Tomare in the Hekari goal.

Hekari’s Nigel Dabinyaba (right) tries to take on Vitiaz’ Eliud Fugre on Saturday. Photo: PNGFA

The lead didn’t last long. From a Russell Chris goal kick, Upaiga’s strong header forward found Nigel Dabinyaba, whose skill and strength was too much for Randall Passam, who brought the winger down around 40 yards from goal. The resulting free-kick was swung in by David Muta, and Foster headed the ball neatly into the back of the net for the equaliser.

Despite Hekari changing to their red shirts in the second half, the game became rather niggly. As the hour mark approached, the yellow cards started being thrust at players, and the flow of the game was disrupted immensely. After Raymond Gunemba came off due to an injury, his former Lae teammate Nigel Dabinyaba had a real chance to put Hekari ahead on 65 minutes; as Hekari broke from a Vitiaz free-kick, Michael Foster switched play beautifully to the opposite flank, and Dabinyaba cut inside one defender and struck the ball sweetly, but it hit the outside of the post and harmlessly wide. In the end, both sides had to settle for a 1-1 draw.

The second match of the day in Port Moresby saw an FC Bougainville side, still reeling from their 9-2 defeat at the hands of Lae City last weekend, take on a travelling Morobe United looking to move away from the bottom of the table. Bougainville started the match with three of their recent transfers in the starting eleven: Steven Inia and Bernard Purari both arrived from Star Mountain in the bonus transfer window, while Gabby Yanum was in the side to face his former club. Moreover, after Percy Mataio’s abrupt departure last week, David Passam returned as head coach. For Morobe United, new recruit Jonathan Pole started in goal, while captain Jeremy Yasasa was tasked with leading the line.

Bougainville’s Bernard Purari (in yellow) takes on Morobe United’s Kepas Kamen in Port Moresby on Saturday. Photo: PNGFA

The first half was an even affair, with neither side able to take any of the half-chances that they created. However, FC Bougainville came out firing in the second half, and almost straight from the kick-off, a through ball eventually found Basil Jofari in space in the box, and the midfielder hammered it home. Morobe United stayed relatively evenly-matched to Bougainville for the remainder of the second half, but two late goals – another for Jofari and one for Abel Redenut – made the score a little more one-sided than either side deserved.

The third match in the capital saw Gulf Komara take one Morobe Wawens. Wawens, who have not won away from home so far this season, continued their miserable record on the road with a 2-1 defeat, which put the victors in fourth place. Komara took the lead just after the half-hour mark after Wawens were dispossessed in midfield, and Pala Paul cut in from the left flank and curled an unstoppable shot in off the far crossbar. Komara went two up through Ilagi Geno just after half-time: a long ball from a deep free-kick found its way to Kenneth Arah, who squared the ball for Geno to smash his third goal in two games the roof of the net. The score remained 2-0 until the dying seconds of the game, when Wawens goalkeeper Jason Bendi stepped up to score a late penalty for the visitors.

Rupa Emil (Gulf Komara) tries a curling shot against Morobe Wawens on Saturday. Photo: PNGFA

In Lae, then, the delayed kick-off between Tusbab Stallions and Star Mountain ended in another defeat for Tusbab Stallions – that’s three in three – thanks to a Willam Yumb goal for the visitors. The result see Stallions finally slip out of the playoff positions and be replaced by Komara, although Stallions have a chance to regain fourth place next week when they take on FC Bougainville while Gulf Komara face Hekari United.

Monday night saw Lae City eventually take on FC Kutubu in slightly better weather conditions, and despite an early own goal from Alwin Komolong, the reigning champions eventually ran out 3-1 winners, with goals from Komolong (at the right end), Jacob Sabua, and Emmanuel Airem. The win sees Lae go two points clear at the top of the league ahead of next week’s clash against Morobe Wawens.

Results:

Vitiaz United 1-1 Hekari United
FC Bougainville 3-0 Morobe United
Tusbab Stallions 0-1 Star Mountain
Gulf Komara 2-1 Morobe Wawens
FC Kutubu 1-3 Lae City

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