Hekari in box seat

Sports

HEKARI United are in the box seat to seal a spot in the Kumul Petroleum National Soccer League grand final after beating Eastern Stars 2-0 in Port Moresby yesterday.
Atti Kepo’s first-half effort and Koriak Upaiga’s late goal were enough to help Hekari secure in the first leg of the home-and-away series at the Papua New Guinea Football Stadium.
Despite the loss, Anthony Pakakota was proud of his side, who were a man down after midfielder Michael Saun was shown a red card in the first half.
“Three of our regular starters — Tau Winne, Andrew Lepani and Ian Paia — were unable to play after they had sustained injuries during our midweek match against Chebu AROB,” Pakakota told The National last night.
“Despite their absence, the side performed well tactically. The red card to Michael forced us into re-strategising our game plan and format.
“We held on well in the first half but their numerical advantage paid off when they scored late in the match.
“We had several goal-scoring chances but it just wasn’t our day. We felt some of the calls did not go our way but that’s football.”
When asked whether the short turnaround had affected their performance, Pakakota said: “It did. Hekari had a week’s rest and we only had since Thursday to recuperate.
“But it is what it is. We’ll go back to training and re-group ahead of the second leg.
“The Stars are a cohesive team and we will keep on fighting. Stars never die.
“Hopefully, we will have Tau, Andrew and Ian back for the second leg.”
Hekari coach Jerry Allan will be banking on Upaiga and veteran midfielder David Muta to get the job done in the return leg at the same venue on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Northern Conference champions Toti City beat runners-up Morobe United 2-1 at the Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium on Saturday.
Skipper Raymond Gunemba will looking to spearhead a similar outcome when the two sides meet in the second leg at the same venue on Saturday.

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