The second half of the Hong Kong Premier League kicked off on January 19th and 20th, with some intriguing story lines: the top two clubs of the table collided in Guangzhou, while Tai Po and Yuen Long locked horns in the New Territories derby. However, the biggest headline goes to Hoi King, who collected their first three points of the season against Southern. This also makes the title race even tighter then before, with just three points between leaders R&F and fifth-placed Tai Po.
First, on Saturday January 19th, the most important match-up of this round was arguably held at Yangzigang Stadium between R&F and Eastern, the top two clubs in the league standings. With a final score of 1-1, R&F continue to stay on top. Both sides played some air-tight defense, making it a game with few notable scoring opportunities. The opening goal was registered six minutes into the second half, when Tiago de Leonco scored from the near post after receiving a cross from Giovane da Silva. 21 minutes later, Eastern forced in the equalizer when substitute Lam Ka-wai beat Zhou Yuchen at close range, following a defensive mishap by former teammate Lo Kwan-yee. With that, both teams shook hands to split the points, and the Guangzhou-based club maintains a one-point advantage over Eastern.
Simultaneously, the two district clubs from the New Territories wrapped up their league rendezvous of the season. Tai Po enjoyed a 2-0 advantage over Yuen Long before half-time. Wong Wai’s superb quick release from the edge of the penalty area opened the score, which was then doubled when Harrison Sawyer tallied his ninth of the season barely four minutes later. Momentum shifted in favor of the visitors though, as they fought back to manage their second draw in as many games. Taiwanese youngster Wang Ruei cut the deficit to half in the early stage of the second half, his first career tally in Hong Kong, and Caleb Ekwegwo was credited with the decisive equalizer, just six minutes from regular time.
Coincidentally, the third contest of the day ended in a draw as well, as Pegasus and Dreams had to settle with a 1-1 at Mong Kok Stadium. The visiting team had a couple of close calls before conceding the first goal of the night to the Flying Horsemen. In the 37th minute, Travis Major headed in from the far post, following a cross by Law Hiu-chung from the right. However, it took the motivated Dreams only five mintues into the second half to draw level. By intercepting a half-clearance, Marcos Gondra’s wonderful left-foot strike some 30 yards away went straight into top right corner. Despite continuous efforts from both sides, a game-winning goal was never realized. It is worth noting that Korean midfielder Yoon Donghun of Dreams suffered a dislocated right shoulder and was sent to hospital for further treatment.
On Sunday, January 20th, bottom-of-the-table Hoi King caused a major upset by defying all odds and beating Southern 1-0, thanks to Robert Goncalves’s tally at Sham Shui Po Sports Ground. Before the game, the Aberdeeners were seen as strong favourites to take all three points, especially after the epic victory over Kitchee one week earlier. However, on the field it was the Kingsmen taking control from the whistle onwards, despite a league record of zero wins, one draw, and eight losses. Robert, who had just joined Hoi King on loan from Kitchee the previous week, only came in as a sub in the 66th minute, and made an impact nine minutes later, when he beat Tse Tak-him with a sharp-angle finish. Southern manager Ricky Cheng called for three substitutions at the same time, but it was too late to avoid their second defeat of the campaign.
At Mong Kok Stadium, hosts Kitchee bounced back from last week’s loss at the expense of Lee Man, by beating them 3-0. To start the game, the Bluewaves had a slight advantage over their opponents, but had to wait until the 42nd minute to solve the goalless deadlock. Jared Lum was found unmarked by Lucas Silva, before slotting home on a wide open net for a 1-0 lead. The Bees gained their best and only chance when Michael N’dri overcame two defenders before choosing to shoot, but Wang Zhenpeng made a diving stop. However, they were down to 10 men after Ngan Lok-fung earned his second booking in the 76th minute. Lee Man eventually broke down, allowing Lucas and Fernando to find the net to complete the scoring.
With the weekend coming to an end, R&F and Eastern remain on first and second place respectively. Southern and Kitchee both have 18 points, but the latter stay at fourth due to the weaker head-to-head record with the Aberdeeners. Tai Po moved down to fifth place, enjoying a two-point advantage over Pegasus who are on sixth. Yuen Long are sitting at seventh, followed by Lee Man and Dreams. Despite their first win, Hoi King stay at the bottom, but their win considerably closed the gap and should make the relegation battle more exciting.
R&F 1:1 Eastern (January 19th, 2:30pm, Yangzigang Stadium; Attendance: 788)
Tai Po 2:2 Yuen Long (January 19th, 2:30pm, Tai Po Sports Ground; Attendance: 910)
Pegasus 1:1 Dreams (January 19th, 5:30pm, Mong Kok Stadium; Attendance: 742)
Hoi King 1:0 Southern (January 20th, 2:30pm, Sham Shui Po Sports Ground; Attendance: 605)
Kitchee 3:0 Lee Man (January 20th, 5:30pm, Mong Kok Stadium; Attendance: 1591)