Lautoka FC fought back from a goal-down to draw 1-1 with Rewa FC at Churchill Park this evening, setting up a tantalising second leg in Fiji’s OFC Champions League 2022 National Playoffs.
Talismanic striker Sairusi Nalaubu secured the hard-fought turnaround for the home side after Rusiate Matarerega had previously given the visitors the lead in a game which both sides will feel they could have won.
Lautoka were unable to call upon new signing Raymond Gunemba due to suspension, but two other recent imports did start for Anginesh Prasad’s side, Nigerian forward Usman Omede and Papua New Guinea goalkeeper Ishmael Pole making their debuts. Barely two minutes in and the latter was swiftly called into action, making an acrobatic save to deny Rewa frontman Bruce Hughes.
It continued to be a busy debut for Lautoka’s new stopper as Rewa dominated the opening stages. Rusiate Matarerega and Ivan Kumar were both denied while Gabriele Matanisiga hit the post with a near-post header.
A frenetic end to the first-half saw Bruce Hughes once again come close with a stunning effort, his powerful half-volley skimming the crossbar. Moments later, his older brother Setareki Hughes also shook the Rewa woodwork, his left-foot curling effort hitting the post.
Lautoka also took advantage of the frenzied period of play, Muni Shivan Naidu stinging the hands of Mohammed Alam in the Rewa goal and Atonio Tuivuna heading just wide from a corner but despite the numerous chances both sides went into the break goalless.
Rewa’s dominance continued in the early stages of the second-half and just shy of the hour mark the visitors got the goal their pressure merited. Setareki Hughes’ perfectly placed pass landed in the path of a marauding Matarerega, who lifted the ball past Pole to give Rewa a deserved lead.
But the Delta Tigers lost their influential captain Setareki Hughes to injury and Lautoka took full advantage of the talisman’s absence. Substitute Aporosa Yada’s cross found its way to Nalaubu in the penalty box where the Lautoka danger-man hammered home an equaliser for the hosts.
Galvanised by the leveller, Lautoka went looking for a winning goal in front of their home fans and looked the more likely to score in the latter stages.
Kolinio Sivoki saw a headed effort cleared off the line before Alam made two reaction saves to keep out Naidu and Gulam Razool to ensure an entertaining first leg ended 1-1, setting up an intriguing second leg encounter at the ANZ Stadium in Suva on Sunday, June 19.
Lautoka FC 1 (Sairusi NALAUBU 74′)
Rewa FC 1 (Rusiate MATAREREGA 59′)