The weekend after Lunar New Year saw another round of Sapling Cup fixtures on February 10th and 11th, with several results that went against the usual trend in the league.
First up were league strugglers Hoi King and Lee Man, who faced off at Hammer Hill Sports Ground on Sunday afternoon. Hoi King’s momentum was stunted by their last loss to Yuen Long in the FA Cup, and the Bees took full advantage in this game. Serhiy Sharpoval’s in-swinging corner from the left was barely cleared from the Kingsmen box, only for Michael N’dri to drill the ball back inside, where it was tucked away by Cheng Siu-Kwan. Lee Man took the lead just eight minutes into the game.
Another corner soon after the first goal undid the Hoi King defense again: Leong Ka-hang’s volley from six yards was superbly kept out by keeper Felix Luk, only to watch on helplessly as Bees captain Fran Gonzalez tapped the ball into an empty net. Three more times did Lee Man strike, with N’dri tucking away a penalty, and Gonzalez netting his second of the game. The afternoon only got longer for the red-clad side as Tsang Tzi-hin botched his clearance into his own net.
To their credit, Hoi King never stopped fighting to get on the scoresheet. Lee Man were 5-0 up at the 40 minute mark, but Kim Min-Ki pulled one back by heading in a corner (a pattern that both managers must surely have noticed).
Hoi King wanted to come out swinging, and a glimmer of hope for a heck of a comeback flickered briefly. Kim Min-Ki battled through three blue-white defenders to push the score to 5-2, but some clumsy play at the back saw Hoi King giving away another penalty. Fran Gonzalez stepped up and duly converted, becoming the first centre-back in Hong Kong to complete a hat-trick in the league. The score ended 6-2 to Lee Man, with the Bees sitting pretty at the summit of Group B.
Leaving Hammer Hill behind, the next action happened in Yuen Long, where the third New Territories Derby of the season took place to determine Group A rankings for the Sapling Cup. Yuen Long fielded an experienced and hungry team, while Tai Po played with an seemingly experimental side, as they kept an eye on the upcoming AFC Cup preliminary round.
Momentum see-sawed back and forth in the opening minutes, with Yuen Long coming closest to snatching a goal as Moser’s powerful flick shook the crossbar. Wave after wave of Tangerine attack stymied the Tai Po midfield, who looked shell-shocked and bareft of ideas going forward. Yuen Long were winning almost every second ball and aerial duels, and the frustration from the Greens was evident as they tried and tried again to play out from the back. The score remained 0-0 at halftime, with both teams kicking themselves.
The orange onslaught resumed in the second half, and Yuen Long were duly rewarded for their efforts just past the 60th minute mark. Disorganization among the Tai Po defenders saw Chan Kwong-ho pull off a wonder strike from the top of the box, into the far left post. Tai Po threw on Sandro for his debut game in an attempt to find a quick equalizer, but the striker barely got a feel for the pitch before Yuen Long doubled the lead.
The Green’s defense was struggling all afternoon to hold their shape. Lee Oi-hin shrugged past two defenders and put the ball on a plate for Moser to strike home. Green shirts stood all around the 6-yard box, wondering where their teammates went, as the orange half of the stadium went wild.
Tai Po nearly scored in the 89th minute, as a throw-in was met by the head of Michel Lugo, only to skim the wrong side of the net. However, Sandro still did net his first goal for the club in added time, as his clever flick-on from the left corner left orange-clad defenders rooted in the area. Alas, time ran out, and Yuen Long claimed bragging rights with all three points.
As the night loomed, Tsing Yi Sports Ground came alive with the cup clash between Dreams and Eastern. Contrary to their league position, the pink-and-white clad Dreamers are sailing high atop Group A in the Sapling Cup, while Eastern sitting bottom of the cup table. Their disappointing form also saw to the resignation of “Beef Ball” Chan Yuen-ting after just seven months.
The Blues took a crack at goal in the 6th minute, after some good passing play found Lam Hok-hei, who did well to shrug off two defenders, but his shot was parried by To Chun-kiu in the Dreams goal.
Kawase Kota put the ball past Eastern Keeper Liang Yuhao 17 minutes in, but was ruled out for allegedly having controlled the ball with his arm before volleying in. Dreams had another decent chance four minutes later, as the ball was worked beautifully from the right wing. Diego Higino latched on, but may have had his eyes set on the roof of one of the estates by the stadium instead of the goal, so high up into the night went his scuffed effort.
Eastern counterattacked before the end of the half, with Robson Shimabuku lunging up the middle and cracking a shot that whistled past the left goalpost. The teams retreated to the sheds, deadlocked without a goal.
Both teams had good chances go to waste in the second half, but the ball just would not stay down for either side. 70 minutes gone, three balls up and over, and an end to the stalemate nowhere in sight. Jaimes McKee’s missed header ten minutes from time would be the last effort on goal, as both teams shook hands for the 0-0 draw. Dreams remain unaffected at the top of Group A, but Eastern are all but confirmed out of the cup following two losses and a draw.
Eventually, on Monday evening, February 11th, Tsing Yi was once again the host stadium for the last battle of this roundup, as Pegasus squared off with Southern.
Pegasus took the lead early through a penalty goal, as Travis Major was brought down in the box in the 6th minute. The Flying Horsemen peppered the Aberdeeners goal, but Li Yat-chun was equal to both Mahama Awal’s and Travis Major’s efforts.
With the clock ticking down, Southern fought for the equalizer: Paco Chan and Carlos Bertoldi blasted high over the Pegasus goal, and Wellingsson De Souza’s driving effort also smothered by Horsemen keeper Leung Hing-kit.
However, Pegasus did not hold on to their slim advantage for long. Ten minutes after the restart, James Ha was alert to De Souza’s cross and nodded in the equalizer, dragging Southern back into the fray. Jack Sealy had other ideas, though. The rightback forced his way into the box and restored the lead for Pegasus after 60 minutes.
The Southern defense was in proper disarray, with Pegasus players constantly finding pockets of space to work into dangerous positions. Travis Major was again in the thick of things, and it was him who put Southern to the sword ten minutes later, making it 3-1 with a solo effort. This also means that Pegasus are through to the next round of the contest.
Pegasus next face Hoi King on Friday, February 15th, at Mong Kok Stadium at 8pm. Tai Po and Kitchee will clash on Saturday afternoon at 2:30pm at Tai Po Sports Ground, with Lee Man’s game against R&F taking place in the evening at 5:30pm in Tseung Kwan O. 2:30pm Sunday afternoon will see Dreams host Yuen Long at Tsing Yi, while Eastern round off this coming weekend’s fixtures at Hong Kong Stadium against Southern at 5:30pm.
Hoi King 2:6 Lee Man (February 10th , 2:30pm, Hammer Hill Sports Ground; Attendance: 327)
Yuen Long 2:1 Tai Po (February 10th, 5:30pm, Yuen Long Stadium; Attendance: 663)
Dreams 0:0 Eastern (February 10th, 8:00pm, Tsing Yi Sports Ground; Attendance: 335)
Pegasus 3:1 Southern (February 11th, 8:00pm, Tsing Yi Sports Ground; Attendance: 357)