By Jeff Hardbattle and Tobias Zuser
With current table-toppers Eastern taking a break for the week, the teams just below them in the Premier League would have been desperate to make up some ground to try and improve their own title chances, whilst at the bottom all three relegation candidates were in action in a bid to try and put some breathing space between themselves and the drop.
This year’s surprise package Southern kicked things off as they faced Yuen Long, with the latter currently in 7th place and just one point ahead of the bottom two teams. Kitchee then faced Dreams as they looked to try and claw their way back into the title race despite being 5 points off the pace and having played a game more.
On Sunday, Pegasus were finally able to play their first home game at Hong Kong Stadium after some pitch renovation work when they took on second-from-bottom Wong Tai Sin, who only sit above the foot of the table due to goal difference. The weekend fixtures were rounded-off by bottom club Rangers, as they hoped to cause an upset over South China who currently pose the biggest threat to Eastern’s title charge. Jeff Hardbattle and Tobias Zuser round-up all of the action.
SOUTHERN 2:0 YUEN LONG
(Southern goalscorers: Da Silva (OG) ’62; Maronesi 83′)
(Match report by Jeff Hardbattle)
With Southern’s impending Senior Shield Final match on the horizon, one could have been forgiven for thinking that coach Ricky Cheng might have opted to rest some of his players, but with the Aberdeeners flying high there was no sign that Yuen Long were going to be given any kind of easier ride, with goalkeeper Wong Tsz-him being the only change made to their starting eleven. The visitors were in desperate need of something from this game, with the New Territories club now looking set to be in the relegation mix come May, and alarmingly had conceded 17 goals this season before this match even began – more than any other team in the league.
Yuen Long, though, probably had the better chances in the first half in what was largely a forgettable opening 45 minutes. Stefan Pereira came closest eight minutes before half time, when he stormed into the box after receiving a lovely pass from the right of the park, only for him to shoot agonizingly wide of the right-hand post.
The hosts had more about them in the second half, and with the introduction of new signing Paul Ngue from Dreams, their attacking intent became even more apparent. Less than ten minutes later, disaster struck for Yuen Long after a cross into the box from Wellingsson de Souza saw defender Luciano Silva da Silva connect with the ball, allowing it to creep into his own net at the far post to make it 1:0 to Southern.
The away side may have felt that they had a way back into the game when in the 82nd minute, substitute Paul Ngue was shown a red card to reduce the Aberdeeners to ten men.
But a minute later, it was all over, as a corner was guided on to the far post from a back header by Jose Diaz, allowing Tomas Maronesi to ram the ball home with an expertly-executed scissor kick to seal the points for Southern.
Southern now sit in 4th and are level on points with Pegasus, just 3 points behind Kitchee in 3rd. Yuen Long still remain in danger and continue to occupy 7th place, just one point ahead of both Wong Tai Sin and Rangers respectively.
DATE AND TIME: 2:30pm, Saturday 16th January, 2016
STADIUM: Aberdeen Sports Ground
KITCHEE 1:1 DREAMS
(Kitchee goalscorers: Matthew Lam 14′)
(Dreams goalscorers: Leung Kwok Wai 90’+4′)
(Match report by Tobias Zuser)
More than 900 people found their way to Mong Kok Stadium on this rainy Saturday afternoon to watch Kitchee attempt to keep their hopes for the championship alive. With a bye-week for Eastern, who used this time for an intensive training camp in Mainland China, Abraham Garcia’s men saw a perfect opportunity to reduce the margin and bring themselves back into the race for the title. However, it was clear that it wouldn’t be an easy task against newcomers Dreams, who had already beaten Kitchee 2:1 in the first half of the Premier League season.
After the unexpected loss to an inspired Rangers squad in the Sapling Cup group stage, in which Garcia fielded a mediocre B-team, Kitchee didn’t want to leave anything to chance for this game, which resulted in a terrific start for the hosts. Just 14 minutes into the game, Lam Ka-wai found Matthew Lam, who hammered the ball from more than 15 metres into the goal, making it 1:0 for the sky blues. Briefly after that, Brazilian winger and fan hero Fernando almost added to the score, but his volleyed shot missed the target. However, the last few minutes of the first half belonged to Kitchee goalkeeper Wang Zhenpeng, who proved his skill with impressive saves against Kenji Fukuda and Dreams captain Chu Siu-kei.
The audience in Mong Kok was also not left disappointed during the second half, when both teams showed some fantastic play. While the Kitchee forwards were to blame themselves, with Fernando missing out in a promising one-on-one situation by a lack of timing, goalkeeper Wang also played his part in keeping the Dreams squad feeling frustrated.
Unfortunately, the match was then overshadowed by a controversial decision in the 85th minute, as Sandro was brought down in the penalty box, but referee Ng Chiu-kok booked the naturalized Hong Kong Representative Team player for diving. Unsurprisingly, these are then often the games with a twist at the end. Three minutes into stoppage time, Dreams used the confusion to their advantage when the game continued despite an injured field player and Leung Kwok Wai headed in a last minute equalizer for a not-undeserved draw.
After dropping points again in the league, Kitchee will hardly play any role in defending the league title, leaving both Eastern and South China with the better odds in the race. Dreams on the other hand are on the way to becoming a feared opponent against the sky blues, having yet to be beaten by them.
DATE AND TIME: 5:30pm, Saturday 16th January, 2016
STADIUM: Mong Kok Stadium
PEGASUS 2:0 WONG TAI SIN
(Pegasus goalscorers: Adrovic 19′, 83′)
(Match report by Tobias Zuser)
There was one particular factor that added some excitement to the Sunday game between Pegasus and Wong Tai Sin – the first football game in the 2015/16 football season taking place at the over-sized Hong Kong Stadium after a drawn-out turf renewal that had led to the relocation of the highly anticipated World Cup Qualifying match against China. Although Pegasus had displaced South China from their Caroline Hill neighborhood, they had to wait until January to play their first game on their newly claimed home soil. To be fair, the pitch condition was indeed excellent, despite heavy rain showers earlier in the day. Unfortunately only 500 people came to watch the premiere at Hong Kong Stadium that day, putting the attendance at a meagre 1.25 percent of the 40,000 capacity.
Since early this year, the Pegasus coach duo Lee Chi-kin and Man Pei-tak have put their trust in 21-year old goalkeeper Yuen Ho-chun instead of foreign aid Kristijan Naumovski, and Yuen rewarded their faith once again within the first few minutes when he saved smartly from an attempt from South Korean Yoon Dong-hun. Shortly afterwards, Tsang Man-fai did the same for Wong Tai Sin, when he tipped the ball over the bar. However, in the 19th minute Tsang stood no chance against a header by Montenegrin striker Admir Adrovic, making it 1:0 for the home side.
While the first half still had some promising moments for the small crowd in the stands, the following 45 minutes were moderate at best in quality. Wong Tai Sin tried to find their way back into the game, but failed to produce anything potent when attacking. It was therefore not very surprising when Adrovic put the game to rest in the 83rd minute, with his second goal in the match and his seventh goal of the season, being now just one goal short of league top scorer Andrew Barisic.
After their solid but unglamorous victory, Pegasus are now only three points behind Kitchee, and at eye-level with both Southern and Dreams. Wong Tai Sin, on the other hand, missed the chance to escape from their fierce relegation battle with Rangers and Yuen Long.
DATE AND TIME: 2:30pm, Sunday 17th January, 2016
STADIUM: Hong Kong Stadium
RANGERS 0:2 SOUTH CHINA
(South China goalscorers: Cheung Kin Fung 20′; Awal 43′)
(Match report by Jeff Hardbattle)
Despite their recent strong performances in the cup competitions, Rangers found themselves at the bottom of the pile heading into today’s game and in real danger of facing relegation to the First Division. Indeed, they have managed just 2 goals in the league this season, and after their performance in this match it is even more abundantly clear as to the area they need to strengthen. South China on the other hand, were looking to take advantage of their miserable league form both to keep the pressure on Eastern at the top and to solidify their position in second, after Kitchee failed to attain a win over Dreams.
The Caroliners looked to put the home side to the sword early, and they nearly did so when new signing Felix Borja picked up a long throw-in from Cheung Kin-fung and acrobatically unleashed a bicycle-kick, but the ball crashed off the woodwork to save Rangers’ this time around.
But South China weren’t to be discouraged, and in the 20th minute they were ahead as Cheung Kin-fung stepped up to curl a fabulous free kick just outside of the 18-yard-box around the Rangers wall into the bottom-left corner, to leave goalkeeper Paolo Cesar with no chance and make the score 1:0.
The hosts did manage to create a couple of decent chances, with probably the best of those in the 34th minute when Hui Wang-fung threaded an excellent pass through to Hui Ka-lok, whose shot was on target, but goalkeeper Christian Mora was equal to it.
The Caroliners then managed to double their lead just two minutes before the end of the first half, after a lovely chip over the Rangers defence from Chan Siu Ki found Mahama Awal completely unmarked, and the Cameroonian made no mistake and gleefully smashed the ball home to make the score 2:0.
Both sides traded chances in the second half, but the scoreline remained the same and Rangers are now in real danger of facing the drop. They will next be in action on the 31st January, away to Yuen Long, in what will be a real six pointer of a game. South China move 3 points clear of Kitchee in 3rd and sit a point behind leaders Eastern, though the latter have played a game fewer.
DATE AND TIME: 5:30pm, Sunday 17th January, 2016
STADIUM: Kowloon Bay Park
BOCG LIFE HONG KONG PREMIER LEAGUE TABLE (18/1/2016)
Jeff Hardbattle is a sports journalist based in Hong Kong and managing editor of Offside.hk
Tobias Zuser is a Hong Kong based cultural researcher and founder of Offside.hk