By HENRY MORABANG
HEKARI United kept their hopes alive with a 2-1 victory over Solomon Islands champions Marists FC in the final O-League match for 2009 in Port Moresby on Saturday.
The match was played in humid, overcast conditions at Lloyd Robson Oval.
Both teams were desperate to pick up points after disappointing results in the opening two rounds of the competition.
After an evenly contested first half, Hekari finally got the breakthrough three minutes into the second half with an excellent header by flanker Kema Jack to put the PNG champions on the scoreboard.
A well-placed corner kick by skipper David Muta, who sailed the ball to the far post, found the flying Keapara native heading in the first goal of the afternoon.
Two minutes later, Solomon Islands international Joachim Waroi doubled the lead when he flicked the ball in from close range before he was brought down by the Marist defence.
The Marist defenders desperately cleared the ball away but the Australian referee, who was in a great position, judged it a goal.
The visitors kept pushing and were rewarded with a goal in the 82nd minute when former Sydney United FC and Solomon Islands international, Cummins Menapi, headed a cross home from a corner.
It made for a tense finish as Marist threw everything at the Hekari defence but coach Jerry Allen’s side was able to hold on to pick up the maximum points.
Hekari assistant coach Tommy Mana said he was happy with the win.
He said the victory puts them back on track in the O-League, and means they must win their remaining matches to qualify for the finals. Hekari United’s franchise owner John Kapi-Natto was pleased with the result saying that his team must pull up their sock if they are serious about contesting the final of the O-League.
He was unhappy especially in the final 15 minutes which Marist almost equalized which would have sent Hekari United packing for the season.
Solomon Island coach Patrick Miniti said post-match his boys played their best but found form too late which did not help their cause.
“We did not perform in the first half which cost us the game. It is a very big disappointment for us,” he said.
Captain Abraham Iniga said it was disappointing for Marist despite the late surge in the dying minutes.
He said the surface of the field (Lloyd Robson Oval) did not help his boys because a lot of our boys are not used to hard surfaces.
However, they would put this one aside and work from there in the remaining three matches.
Hekari United now sit third in Group B on four points behind Lautoka and Tafea FC on six and seven points respectively.
Marist meanwhile are languishing at the bottom of the table having not picked up a single point in their three O-League outings.