An away goal for Marist could prove crucial after the first leg of the OFC Champions League semi-final ended in a 1-1 draw between the Solomon Islands club and their host Lautoka FC at Churchill Park this afternoon.
Like the earlier semi-final in Wellington, it was expected to be a tight encounter with both sides having shown the 2017 finalists Team Wellington and Auckland City what they’re made of in the Group Stage of this competition.
And tight it was.
As well as sharing possession, both sides had excellent opportunities to find the lead in the first half.
However for Marist it was a difficult start as goalkeeper Anthony Talo came down hard in an aerial challenge with Osea Vakatalesau in his goal mouth, injuring his knee. The dual futsal and beach soccer international tried to keep playing but eventually had to be substituted after just 12 minutes – seven of which were spent treating Talo’s injury.
Harold Nauina came in as the replacement and wasted no time showing he was up to the task as he made a couple of great saves soon after his arrival, most notably a low drive from Benji Totori who looked to squeak the ball in between Naunia and his post, only for an outstretched glove to deny him.
Koriak Upaiga looked threatening in the first half with a couple of overlapping runs causing problems at the back for Lautoka, but a quick reshuffle soon snuffed out Upaiga’s advances.
Lautoka had their best chance of the half in the 34th minute when Dave Radrigai smashed a shot off only to be denied by the woodwork. Two minutes later and Marist were finally in front after Davidson Tome put the finishing touch on a quick counter attack to give his side the lead.
Lautoka pushed back harder than ever but kept being foiled inside the penalty area by a solid Marist backline. After a stern half-time talk, it wasn’t long before Lautoka hit back at their opponents.
A corner delivery from Cory Chettleburgh, reminiscent of that which sent them through to the semi-finals, was met by Vakatelesau who was head and shoulders above his opponents as he headed down into the net.
Knowing a draw would still leave them at a disadvantage for the away leg, Lautoka kept pressing high for a winner and despite some excellent opportunities the finishing just wasn’t there. The home side weren’t helped by a second yellow to Samuela Drudru in the 68th minute which saw his side reduced to ten men.
Despite the advantage, Marist couldn’t capitalise and just like Team Wellington and Auckland City, there remains everything to play for in the second leg of the semi-finals.
Lautoka coach Kamal Swamy said Marist’s goal came of a silly mistake from his side, which is something they’ll be working to rectify over the next week.
“We had a game plan and what we wanted to do, we did in the first half,” Swamy said.
“The plan was going ok but unfortunately they scored first. We had hoped to hold them off and just monitor them before trying to attack them.”
A goal down at the break, Swamy said the side never lost confidence in themselves.
“We knew we would score. We created a lot of chances and unfortunately hit the post with one really good chance.
“The boys were eager to go in the second half and wanted to score so that positive thinking was there and that’s one good thing about the team. They won’t give up.”
Meanwhile Jerry Allen was frustrated his side wasn’t able to avoid conceding, especially after he warned them about the talent of Lautoka’s players.
“I think we played well in the first half and okay in the second, but we conceded. I knew it would happen there, from a set piece,” Allen said.
“I know Osea (Vakatalesau) well, Brian (Kaltack) some of the other boys, I used to coach them before with Hekari and so I reminded my players what they can do.
“Osea has good height, and he used it in the corner even though I warned them.
“The plan now is to go home, work on some things and prepare once more – we have a big chance to do something great at home next week.”
For Marist and Lautoka Leg 2 will be held at Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara on Sunday 29 April.