Lautoka top group after draw

Fijian champions Lautoka have taken the lead in Group A of the 2011 O-League after playing out a scoreless draw with Hekari United on Saturday afternoon at Churchill Park.

They now have two wins and one draw from their three matches and are the only Group A side yet to taste defeat.

The clash with defending O-League champions Hekari was an eagerly anticipated encounter and a bumper crowd turned up to watch the home side take on Oceania's recent FIFA Club World Cup representatives.

Aside from cheering on their own team, local fans had plenty of players in the opposing line-up to keep an eye on with Fijians Osea Vakatalesau, Simione Tamanisau, Pita Bolaitoga, Malakai Tiwa and Alvin Singh all starting for Hekari and a sixth, Tuimasi Manuca, coming off the bench late on.

But there wasn't a lot to cheer about as both sides struggled to finish off their chances and were forced to settle for a point each after the stalemate.

Lautoka coach Gurjit Singh will have wanted to net a few goals to reward the large crowd for their support but was pleased to see his charges establish themselves at the top of the table.

"I'm happy with the result, given the short time we had together before the match," he says.

"It is important now to work on our weaknesses as we are undefeated and in the running for a place in the final. Our focus is now on our next opponents, who will be Koloale."

Lautoka were without several key players after Marika Madigi, Valerio Nawatu, Jone Vono Junior, Samuela Kautoka and Ilaitia Tuilau were all dropped for disciplinary reasons and began the match in indecisive fashion as Hekari seized the initiative.

The hosts had to survive an early onslaught from the Papua New Guinea side but managed to ride out the opening moments and settle into the game. Both teams then displayed some entertaining football throughout the rest of the match but a combination of solid defending and inaccuracy in front of goal kept the scorers out of work.

Strikers Vakatalesau, who was celebrating his birthday, and Sanni Issa had several opportunities for Hekari and Lautoka respectively but failed to capitalise on any. Lautoka had the best chance to break the deadlock in the 62nd minute when Issa went round goalkeeper Tamanisau and had the net at his mercy but somehow placed his shot wide.

Hekari's stand-in coach Treva Ire was reasonably pleased with the performance but knows the team must improve if they are to successfully defend their title.

"We stuck to our game plan but could not find the target," he says.

"But credit goes to Lautoka because they came out strong as well. Both sides played their hearts out and in the end a draw was a fair result. There is still a lot of room for improvement and we must now go back home and prepare for the next game."

Lautoka are in O-League action again on February 5 when they welcome Solomon Islands side Koloale to Churchill Park while Hekari travel to Vanuatu to take on Amicale on the same day.

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Updated On Saturday, January 15, 2011