Port Moresby (The National) – LAE City pulled off the upset of the ages, beating Hekari United 2-0 to defend their Telikom National Soccer League title on Saturday.
Having been hammered 5-0 by the Reds in the NSL Champions League series in their previous encounter only last week, few gave the visiting team from the Morobe capital any hope of victory in the NSL final at the Sir John Guise Stadium in Port Moresby, but Peter Gunemba’s men proved the doubters wrong with an inspired performance.
In a way, the win legitimised the Dwellers claim of real champions after last year’s history-making title win over Madang in the final in Lae.
Captain and striker Raymond Gunemba put on the man-of-the-match performance, scoring both goals to shatter the Reds dominance in the NSL grand final.
Coming from the scoreless opening half, Gunemba, who curved a goal from a corner kick for the opening goal, and then later intercepted a sloppy pass from Sammy Campbell to Tekieta Teumeura to slice the ball, beating Leslie Kalai for the sealer.
Despite many unnecessary stoppages by referee Roger Adams from Goroka, the Dwellers bounced back from their thrashing the previous weekend to dominate the proceeding throughout the match to come out deserved winners.
Coach Peter Gunemba gave credit to his charges for the win, especially son Raymond, Nigel Dabinyaba, defenders Valentine Nelson, Tiampo Japhet, Joshua Talau and Milubwa Mosie, who made it hard for Hekari to find their rhythm.
He said it was extra special that Lae City Dwellers had an all-PNG side winning the match, which proved that nationals could play football, and hoped the club would be competitive in the Oceania Football Confederation’s Champions League tournament next month.
“This is something we dreamed about doing and emphasised throughout our preparations so the result was definitely sweet, with our only overseas player, Joachim Waroi, watching from the sideline,” Gunemba said.
Hekari had its share of opportunities but striker Tommy Semmy and Koriak Upaiga were kept under wraps by the Dwellers defence.
Hekari coach Jerry Allen congratulated Lae for the win, saying they were the better side on the day.
Despite the loss, he commended his players for their effort against the Dwellers as well as throughout the 2015-16 NSL season.
On the positive side, Hekari did claim the 2015-16 minor premiership, with their big win over Lae last week, ensuring their qualification into next year’s OFC challenge.
Hekari team manager Vonnie Kapi Natto blamed complacency on the part of her players for the loss.
She said it was disappointing to see her charges not commit to the task at hand on the big day.
She credited the Dwellers for coming to the Reds’ home and turning the tables on the former eight-time champions.
“This is something we don’t want to repeat at the at OFC Champions League challenge,” Kapi Natto said. She said that Hekari professionalism and consistency were the cornerstones of their success over the years and they would continue to strive to maintain that standard.