For the third round of HKPL fixtures, two games were postponed to a later date. The games canceled were the R&F home game against Happy Valley, and Kitchee playing away to Lee Man. Pegasus’ game was not affected, and the Horseman play host again, this time to Rangers, at the Hong Kong Stadium on the afternoon of Saturday, September 28th.
At the beginning of the season, many observers believed that Happy Valley and Rangers would struggle this season, given the depths of their squads and the limited budgets available to each club. Happy Valley have struggled, but Rangers surprised many with their keen eye recruitment. After a 3-1 loss to Southern in the first round, Rangers have bounced back with a respectable draw with Eastern away from home in the Sapling Cup and no doubt hoped to further add points to the board with another game in Hong Kong’s most storied stadium.
Both teams started testily in the opening minutes, with nothing of note to write home about. Sixteen minutes in, Charles Lokolingoy had the first chance of the game with a header on target, but the floater sailed harmlessly into the keeper’s gloves. The Australian striker had another chance minutes later that was fired well wide of the target. Former Tai Po player David Lazari also fancied a long shot at goal that was easily collected by the Flying Horsemen’s keeper, Lo Siu-ki.
Rangers’ first chance came as the half-hour mark drew near: Leandro Anibel Basan sent Tang Lok-man on his way into the box with a short rebound, but the young midfielder lacked direction in his shot. The halftime whistle came and both teams retreated to the dressing room — zero goals apiece.
Rangers took the lead on the restart. A deft free-kick from the right by Lam Hok-hei found the diving header of Diego Daniel Canete and into the back of the goal in the 47th minute.
Pegasus sought an immediate equalizer and nearly had it through Chan Hiu-fung. The youngster broke into the visiting box, wove through several defenders and let fly with a shot that, were it not for the outstretched fingers of Lo Siu-ki, would surely have ended as a goal for the home side. Pegasus players were taking turns to shoot in the box, but neither Sasaki nor Lazari managed to score.
Pegasus finally got their equalizer in the 84th minute. The ball was worked across from the left, and after several bounces found Wong Chun-ho at the top of the box. The midfielder’s right-foot volley was well placed and gave the keeper no chance. The score was tied at one apiece now.
Any Pegasus hope for a point was shattered two minutes later, as Rangers’ frontmen Annan and Basan combined for the second Rangers goal. Annan, rolling back the years, cleanly evaded two Pegasus defenders before passing to Basan at the top of the Pegasus box. The Argentine, calm and collected, sent a rippling grounder that managed to nutmeg another Pegasus defender and into the bottom right-hand corner. The game ended 1:2 in favor of the newly-promoted side, which would be their first win of the season.
Southern return to Mongkok stadium to play host to Yuen Long in the first game of Sunday afternoon. The Island-based Southerners were clad in their customary crimson, while Yuen Long sport their (perhaps controversial) new sky blue away kit.
Southern would’ve drawn first blood but their goal was chalked off for an unknown infringement: A long ball forward found Travis Major, after which the big Australian shrugged off his marker and crossed into the middle. Yuen Long long-time servant Fabio cleared the ball back to Major, who scored with his second attempt off the post. Replay showed Major was onside when the pass was made.
Yuen Long goalkeeper Yip Ka-yiu had to be alert again as Southern attacked through Dheigo; the Brazilian collecting a long pass from the back and bearing down on goal. Unfortunately for the hitman, his goal was tame and was easily foiled.
The visitors held on with grit and determination, fighting for every ball. Law Chun-ting sent an inviting cross into the Southern penalty area, Tsang Tsz-hin with a jumping header! A spectacular team effort that did not bear fruit, thanks to some last-ditch defending from Beto Fronza.
Yuen Long’s industry would finally pay off just before the half time whistle. Mikael Burkett managed to steal the ball through a sea of red shirts, before pulling the trigger and beating keeper Tse Tak-him at his near post. The Tangerines number 10 saluted the traveling away fans as he celebrated his goal with his teammates.
After the restart, Yuen Long continued eagerly probing the red defense, with a good chance falling to Tsang Tsz-hin. But the 24-year-old Hong Kong midfielder overcooked his attempt, sending his shot soaring just over the crossbar.
Both teams played passing games that were easy on the eyes, not usually found at the top level of Hong Kong football. Southern finally managed to score from a team effort off of a corner: Lau Ka-ming whipped in a high cross left, the ball was deflected back into the fray by Beto Fronza and Major put in the finishing touches. The 88th-minute equalizer would be the last goal of the game, and both teams come away with a point.
Sunday night loomed, signaling the start of the evening game in Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground, the new home of Eastern, hosting Tai Po. There were fervent discussions before kickoff, as former Tai Po head coach Li Chi-kin and his charges left the champions for Eastern at the close of last season, making this game a bit of a clash between the old and new Greens. On the home side, there were no less than five former greens in the lineup, including influential backline stalwarts Fung Hing-wa, Eduardo Praes and Lee Ka-ho. Former Tai Po midfield general Wong Wai and keeper Tsang Man-fai were on the bench.
From the championship-winning team, only five would start for Tai Po this game. Former Green Yuto Nakamura joined on loan midweek from Kitchee, and fans were eager to see his second debut for the visitors, who were in dire need of more steel and vision from the middle of the park.
The affair started cagily. Eastern’s piercing runs were met with a young but resolute Tai Po defense, and neither side really managed to register efforts on goal. A free-kick for Tai Po saw captain Dudu lift a long pass from the back, way up the pitch; Chan Man-fai beats Ka-ho to the header, and Sandro races towards goal. Fung hing-wa’s tackle was adjudged to be a foul in the box, and Tai Po was awarded a penalty.
Sandro dispatched his own penalty the visitors were in the lead. Minutes later, former Eastern talisman Lugo would try a spectacular shot from the middle circle, with Yapp Hung-fai scrambling back towards his line. Fortunately for the Eastern keeper, the ball was destined for the top of the net. There was a delay in the game as the net needed mending from Lugo’s effort, with fans complaining that this was eating into game time.
Tai Po would extend the lead to 2 in the 30th minute. Sun Ming-him, energetic on the left side of the Tai Po flank, sent a neat pass up the side to striker’s boot. The naturalized Hong Kong Brazilian roved into the box and placed his shot into the bottom right netting. Surely, no one expected this scoreline before halftime!
The start of the second half saw a revitalized Eastern side pulling Tai Po into all sorts of shapes in their efforts to score. Just shy of 60 minutes, three former Greens combined to open the home account. Leung Kwun-chung arced a free-kick towards the right side of the backline, Praes diving to keep the ball in play. The ball was met by a twisting header from defender Fung hing-wa, with Tai Po keeper Felix Luk despairing and out of position. Eastern pulled goal back, 1:2.
Two minutes later, Everton would convert a corner with a beautiful volley on the edge of the 6-yard box to restore parity for the home side. The former Tangerine would add a second to his tally of the night from a counter at the top of the box. Tai Po players were starting to flag and wane; traveling fans sensed more goals coming.
Yuto Nakamura would make his debut and level for his new side in the 86th minute! The naturalized Japanese maestro could not have joined at a better time. Collecting the ball in the Eastern half of play, he drove towards the semi-circle before unleashing an arrow into the bottom left-hand corner. At the end of the draw, Nakamura mused that although this was a good result for the young team, to come from 2-0 up to a draw was not the win that he and the fans wanted.
In the next installment of games, Southern face Kitchee, playing host to their ground-sharing neighbors in the evening; Yuen Long host Lee Man at home in the early afternoon, while Pegasus play R&F at Hong Kong Stadium at night. Tai Po will have the first Derby of the Greens with Happy Valley at Tai Po Sports Ground, with Rangers and Eastern playing the last game of the round in the early evenings.
Southern 1:1 Yuen Long (September 29th, Mongkok Stadium, 2:30pm, Attendance: 978)
Pegasus 1:2 Rangers (Hong Kong Stadium, September 28th, 2:30pm, Attendance: 533)
Eastern 3:3 Tai Po (Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground, September 29th, 5:30pm, Attendance: 893)