A NATURAL defender took up aim when the marksmen failed to find their target.
Suva's Samu Kautoga was the assassin as the Lautoka Blues were left for dead, making it a mouth-watering prospect when the Whites come up against Ba this weekend in what could be the National Football League decider.
The 2-1 win on a bumpy surface at Ratu Cakobau Park saw second-placed Suva reduce the deficit between them and leaders Ba to three points and with a protest pending against Savusavu — which the capital side are confident of bagging — the Suva camp is buzzing with excitement. The Suva-Savusavu game had ended in a draw.
Suva last tasted league success in 1997. Yesterday, Suva should have had the game wrapped up midway through the second spell but were left facing some anxious moments late in the match after former Fiji team captain Simione Tamanisau came on as a striker and made it 1-2 with a beautifully taken glancing header.
Strikers Issa Sani and Ralph Sherwin had an off day, especially the latter. The USP student missed at least three sitters.
Kautoga, who started on the right side of defence and later moved to right mid-field, proved Lautoka's nemesis.
He stunned the Blues early with a neat finish from the left hand edge of the box, having latched onto a rebound after Lautoka goalkeeper Jone Sorolo could only parry Sherwin's effort onto the path of his fellow former Blues team mate.
Kautoga, who joined Suva in the latest transfer window, was at it again in the second spell, rising high to head home into the top left hand corner past the despairing dive of Sorolo.
Having seen off a major hurdle, Suva coach Gurjit Singh looked cool, calm and collected in face of big showdown against Ba. The former schoolteacher was smart in the way he reviewed the match, taking away the talk and pressure of the league decider.
"This is a good build-up for the IDC," he quipped.
"Lautoka had nothing to lose as they do not have much to play for, so it was always going to be hard.
"We started well but towards the end we seemed to have the same problem where we have conceded late goals recently.
"We have to be alert all the time."
His counterpart Lambert Sarju said they let in "two stupid goals".
"That's because we were waiting for off-sides. I always tell the players to always play the whistle.
"We made lots of mistakes in the first-half but I am happy with our second-half effort. We came back strongly and put Suva under a lot of pressure.
"The ground condition was not helpful given most of our reps are good ball players."
Suva's midfield maestro Nathan Shivam was his usual commanding self and played some good balls for Sherwin and Issa.
Sherwin had a stunning strike just graze the top of the Blues crossbar, while veteran defender Inosi Cava and Simione Maikali had a good game in defence. Goalkeeper Emori Ragata pulled off a magnificent acrobatic save from a Tamanisau header in the 90th minute that could have easily been the equaliser.
Zibraaz Saheb, captaining the side on his 23rd birthday, defender Noa Vukica and Sorolo played well for the Blues.
In their final games, Suva and Ba will play Labasa and Tavua respectively.
In the earlier Fiji Sun/GP Batteries-sponsored league match played at the same venue, Rewa beat Navua 1-0 with a first-half goal to young Iosefo Verevou. The loss put Navua, the tailenders on the points table in a precarious position entering the final two games against Nadroga and Tavua.
It's a must-win situation for the side or they will play in their first-ever promotion/relegation series since gaining promotion in 1989.
Lautoka: Sorolo, Vukica, Miteli Namuka, Simon Satya Prakash, Saheb, Jone Kaloutani, Kenneth Onyema, Alvin Avinesh, Arvindra Naidu, Soheb Nur Ali, Isikeli Jeke Keli.
Suva: Ragata, Leone Damudamu, Maikali, Cava, Samuela Vula, Nathan Shivam, Luke Haaterea, Sedrick Datt, Kautoga, Issa Sani, Sherwin.
Referee: Finau Vulivuli; weather: sunny; ground: bumpy; crowd: approximately 800.