Former New Zealand coach Kevin Fallon has praised the efforts of Puaikura FC in their 4-1 loss to Team Wellington in the first match of Group B of the OFC Champions League in New Caledonia on Saturday (CI Time).
The Cook Islands champions stunned the OFC Champions League runners-up by taking an 18th minute lead and held Wellington out until late in the first half at Stade Yoshida in Kone.
Even though Wellington built on their first half lead with two more goals midway through the second half, Puaikura defended valiantly and made one of the competition favourite work for their victory
“I thought we kept fighting and they didn’t stop, they just kept going,” said Puaikura coach Kevin Fallon.
“I think as a club from a little nation they didn’t disgrace themselves and some of the Rarotongan boys who were in that side, I was actually quite pleased with.”
Taking the helm late in their preparations for OFC Champions League, Fallon was relatively pleased with the overall performance of his team.
“To have a one nil lead after I think was five minutes, probably came a little bit early but I was generally very pleased with them I thought they tried and that’s what I wanted more than anything.”
Despite the comfortable win to Team Wellington it was the group stage debutants who took the early lead. A handball in the box gave away the penalty to Puaikura FC and Andre Estay stepped up to convert.
Puaikura’s backline of Ishak Mohammed, Tyrell Barringer-Tahiri, Paul Day and Kimiora Samuela put in a tireless effort to keep their much-fancied opponents from scoring.
The pressure eventually told when an Andy Bevin shot deflected off Samuela past Liam Little with seven minutes left in the first half before Wellington’s Nathaniel Hailemariam scored again threjust before the half-time whistle to take a 2-1 lead into the break.
Also setting up a good day for Puaikura FC was local-based player and striker Pekay Edwards who had a number of close calls in front of the goal and in one instance took on a three-man backline alone.
However, luck ran out for Puaikura who could not keep up with the pressure from their New Zealand opponent and conceded two further goals in the second half through Hailemariam and Joel Stevens.
Puaikura FC will face Fiji’s Ba FC on Tuesday 27 February at 8:00pm (CI Time) for their second encounter in Group B of the OFC Champions League in Kone, New Caledonia. Ba drew 1-1 with host club Hienghene Sport in their first match on Saturday night.