Lautoka nestled into to second place in Group C, behind Auckland City on goal difference, with their 3-1 victory over a spirited Madang FC who threw off disruptions to their build-up to make the Fijian champions work for the three points.
Visa issues meant Madang coach Maurie Wasi was forced to play outfielder Vanya Malagian in goal and the stand-in performed well with some key early saves.
He was eventually beaten in the 21st minute by Benji Totori who extended his tally as the competition’s all-time top scorer with his 23rd goal, thanks to a deft flick-on by Osea Vakatelsau.
Totori turned provider in the 32nd minute with fellow import Cory Chettleburgh doubling Lautoka’s advantage.
Madang cut the deficit five minutes before the halftime break when Papalau Awele put goalkeeper Beniamino Mateinaqara under pressure and Maskulan Pulung was on hand to collect the spilled ball and finish into an empty net.
Vanuatu international Brian Kaltack restored the two-goal cushion for Lautoka with an excellent curling free-kick in the 77th minute to round out a victory that could yet be a crucial step towards making the quarterfinals.
“It’s a positive start for us. We got the three points,” said Lautoka coach Kamal Swamy.
“Unfortunately, the other team had a few players missing so we had an advantage, but I think we need to improve a lot if we want to progress in this competition.”
“Defensively we need to improve – where we set up our lines and the commitment of the players. That will help us in the next game.”
Madang coach Maurie Wasi, who had just 12 players to call upon for the match was proud of the energy and commitment levels of his players but conceded the result was fair.
“Look, we knew coming into this game it would be hard,” Wasi said.
“It’s more about managing the team more than anything else so we have enough players on the park to finish the game, but in saying that we don’t want to make any excuses. Lautoka were the better team. They scored three, we scored one and in that context they deserved to win the game.
The OFC Champions League resumes on Tuesday in Honiara with Team Wellington facing Lupe Ole Soaga and Marist squaring off against AS Magenta. Group C’s next matches in Auckland on Wednesday see AS Venus playing Lautoka FC and Auckland City FC taking on Madang FC.