The OFC Champions League has continued this afternoon with an exciting 2-2 draw between tournament debutants Solomon Warriors and Fijian champions Ba in front of a large crowd at Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara, Solomon Islands.
Nigerian striker Sanni Issa, who also found the net on the opening day last weekend, continued his strong start to the campaign for Ba with a first-half double that put his side 2-0 up within 20 minutes. But, aware that a loss would prove a major blow to their hopes of progressing past the group stages, Warriors regrouped to hit back through Kidston Billy and eventually drew level in injury time with a long-range Micah Lea’alafa strike that sent the boisterous home fans into raptures.
Warriors coach Brendan Crichton was relieved to see his charges get their first point on the board and felt they showed good determination to come back from two goals down.
“We played very well today as the last minutes of the game showed,” he said.
“I am proud of the boys and how they changed their attitude and discipline. We deserve our first point because this team has worked really hard to prepare.”
Crichton thought the point gained by Warriors’ stirring revival could well have become three with a touch more fortune and accuracy in front of goal.
“I feel that we should have won the match because like on Saturday we were the better team. Unfortunately, we did not put away all our chances but the most important thing is that we scored twice and this is what we will build on for our next matches,” the New Zealander said.
The sides went into the clash in contrasting moods after posting opposite results in the first round, Ba earning an impressive 3-1 away victory over Hekari United and Warriors falling to a 2-0 defeat at home to Amicale. With only one home match remaining after today’s fixture, Crichton was aware of the need to take something from the encounter but any hopes of that happening looked unrealistic as Ba charged out of the blocks early on.
With just five minutes on the clock, the thousands who had crammed into Lawson Tama were silenced when Issa headed a free kick past Warriors goalkeeper Eddie Newman, an English import who had previously played under Crichton at New Zealand club Nelson Suburbs.
It got worse for the hosts quarter of an hour later as Issa took advantage of some confusion in the Warriors penalty area to tuck away a loose ball and double the lead.
In danger of seeing their semi-final hopes begin to fade, Warriors desperately needed to find a way back into the game and did just that on 32 minutes when Jeffery Bule displayed some neat footwork to put Billy in behind the Ba defence and the striker beat goalkeeper Ratu Jone to make it 2-1 going into the break.
In an evenly-fought second period, neither side managed to add to the scoreline until futsal international Lea’alafa made the most of a defensive slip-up to find the net from over 40 yards out in the first minute of injury time.
“If you cannot win away then the best result you can hope for is a draw and today we are pleased to earn this point,” Ba coach Yogendra Dutt said. “Today was difficult because our opponents were determined to get a win and really put us under pressure.”
Recovery will now be the main focus for the Men in Black after a demanding start to the competition.
“The next step for us is to give our players some rest after playing in difficult conditions both in Papua New Guinea and here in Solomon Islands. Then we need to come up with a plan to get maximum points on home soil,” Dutt said.
The second round of the OFC Champions League continues on Friday evening with Mont-Dore welcoming Dragon for the francophone derby. The other two matches will take place on the weekend with Hekari meeting Amicale at home on Saturday and Auckland City making the short trip to crosstown rivals Waitakere United on Sunday.
Sunday’s fixture is a change to that originally scheduled as the New Zealand sides had initially been drawn to face off on Saturday.