Hekari United FC were left to rue Ati Kepo’s second-half red card as Mathew David’s late brace sent Lae City FC into the OFC Champions League main stage.
A tough first 45 minutes looked to be edging toward a goalless half-time scoreline at a vociferous PNG National Stadium in Port Moresby before the Hekari fans were sent into raptures just before the break.
Daniel Joe’s deep cross evaded the onrushing Ronald Warisan in the Lae City goal and Ati Kepo’s headed knockdown was nudged over the line by an ecstatic Oberth Simon to give Hekari a 1-0 lead their endeavour deserved.
The second-half remained much the same, an even game which could have swung either way with both teams creating chances and enjoying periods of pressure and possession, but a moment of ill discipline may have ended up costing Hekari dearly.
Kepo, the man who grabbed the assist for their opening goal, was shown his marching orders after two fouls on Kapuls international teammate Alvin Komolong in quick succession – his second yellow card coming in the 74th minute.
Galvanised by the dismissal, Lae City piled the pressure on in the hunt for an equaliser against their 10-men opposition and that pressure eventually told.
A goalmouth scramble following a driven corner ended up with the ball falling kindly at David’s feet, the striker smashing home a volley to level the scoring.
Then, with the game seemingly edging toward extra-time, David secured the stunning late fightback in the 90th minute, his slashing left-foot drive sending the crowd wild in the PNG capital.
Lae City will now join seven other teams in the OFC Champions League finals later this year while Hekari will be left wondering what might have been.
Lae City FC 2 (Mathew DAVID 86′, 90′)
Hekari United FC 1 (Oberth SIMON 45+2′)