Nepal APF Club defeated Friends Club 3-1 in a battle between the two sides fighting to avoid relegation in the Qatar Airways Martyrs Memorial A Division League here at the Dasharath Stadium today.

Aashish Lama scored a brace after Bikey Tamang's opener for the departmental side, while Prezen Tamang converted from the spot for Friends Club. With the win, APF moved up to 11th position with four points from five games, while Friends were pushed down to 13th despite being tied with the departmental side and Chyasal Youth Club. Friends are at the bottom with just two points. Bottom two teams will be relegated to B Division.

After the completion of five rounds, Manang Marshyangdi Club are at the top of the 14- team table with 13 points, two more than defending champions Machhindra FC. Thirdplaced Tribhuvan Army FC and Sankata have nine points each, while newcomers Satdobato Youth Club are at the fifth on eight points. Three Star Club and New Road Team are tied on six points, whereas three teams - Himalayan Sherpa, Brigade Boys Club and Nepal Police Club - have five points each. The leaders after the seventh round will get an opportunity to participate in the AFC Cup qualifiers.

In the last match of the fifth round which was equally important for both the teams in their bid to avoid relegation, Bikey Tamang put APF ahead at the stroke of half an hour when he slammed home from the edge of the box following a pass from his skipper Nabin Lama. APF extended the lead two minutes later after Aashish Lama found the back of the nets on a pass from his skipper Lama.

Aashish Lama made it 3-0 for the departmental side with his second goal of the match when he beat an offside trap after receiving a pass from Awas Lamichhane. Friends cut the deficit in the 69th minute when Prezen Tamang scored from the spot. They earned the penalty after APF defender Dipesh Dhimal brought down Friends forward Jamoul Anthony Francois inside the danger zone.

Aashish Lama had a chance to complete his hat-trick in the 71st minute but he failed to beat Friends goalkeeper Rahul Ramchandra Yadav in one-onone situation.

APF fielded Japanese goalkeeper Yuya Kuriyama in the match and he became the first foreigner to play for any of the three departmental sides, who had been relying on local players until now. Kuriyama made a couple of saves in his debut match. He stopped Friends foreign recruit Jamoul Anthony Francois from scoring in one-on-one situation in the fifth minute. Kuriyama also made a spectacular save to deny Prezen Tamang in the 17th minute.

APF coach Kumar Thapa said the team was happy with the first win. "It was an entertaining match between the bottom two clubs and we are relieved to get first full three points," said the former national team midfielder. Asked about the signing of the foreign goalkeeper, Thapa said they had no choice. "We can adjust with other positions but we do not have options for goalkeeper," he added. "The team also lacks striker and we are looking for options."

Friends coach Mrigendra Mishra rued the missed opportunity to move out of the relegation zone.

"It was an important match for both the teams and we were unlucky as two of our goals were ruled offside," Mishra said. "APF players got confidence after they netted two goals and we played like novice on the pitch. We are under tremendous pressure to save the team now but we do not have much option left. We will have to motivate these players and move forward from this point," he added.

A version of this article appears in the print on December 21, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.