League

Tai Po take all three points in rain-drenched thriller

Photo: HKFA.com

On Saturday night, September 9th, Tai Po and Eastern clashed at Mong Kok Stadium, as both looked to get their season going after dropping points in their respective openers. The heavy rain did not diminish the enthusiasm of the supporters, who were rewarded with a dramatic game.

The green kit of Tai Po made its first appearance in the second away game of the season, which was a welcome sight for the traveling supporters, as the renovations at Tai Po Sports Ground are not expected to be completed before December.  At the same time, Eastern, clad in blue, needed a win to ignite their season after losing 1-0 to Kitchee just two weeks earlier.

The match was gritty from the off, Eastern in uneasy possession and the guests nipping at the heels.  Tai Po had the first sniff of goal from the first corner of the game, when Yuto Nakamura’s high cross bounced around the box until it was claimed by Yapp Hung-fai. Soon after, Aleksandr Kokko got Eastern their first corner as well, after some intricate passing with Cheung Kin-fung and Ju Yingzhi, but the cross didn’t find a taker.

Barely halfway through the first 45 minutes, the game was evenly matched.  Dhiego miscued a shot to the left of the Eastern goal, while at the other end, Tsang Man-fai stayed alert to the onrushing Kokko and kept the score level.  Just minutes later, Tan Chun-lok blazed another shot over the Eastern bar.

There were calls for a penalty from the Tai Po support as Dhiego was seemingly tripped in the box, but the referee booked him instead for an alleged dive, and just two minutes later Eastern eventually broke the deadlock.  The low cross from the left evaded a mass of green shirts, giving Finnish striker Kokko the necessary space to slot home.

Despite calls from both sets of fans to cancel the match due to torrential rain, the game resumed after a half-hour delay.  Tai Po and Eastern struggled to play, as the pitch was completely waterlogged and almost every shot got sucked into the ground.  Nakamura had the first chance, taking advantage of Dhiego’s deflection, but the ball went over the crossbar.

The match eventually turned on its head at the 55 minute mark, as a Tai Po counter-attack pitted the ever-threatening Dhiego against Lee Chi-ho in front of the Eastern box. The Brazilian striker intercepted Lee’s pass out from the back, only for the Eastern centre-back to grab a handful of his opponent’s shirt and to haul him down to earth.  As he was the last man, the referee had no choice but to show him a straight red, ending Lee Chi-ho’s night prematurely.

Now there was blood in the water (almost literally), and Tai Po had their tails up.  In the 64th minute they drew level and the game was back on. Yuen Chun-sing, last year’s top scorer in the First Division, opened his Premier League account with a poacher’s goal, after Yapp Hung-fai failed to hold on to Dhiego’s cross. Tai Po drew level in the 64th minute and the game was back on.

Eastern made a flurry of substitutions, as it appeared that Szeto Man-chun saw it as his only option to safeguard the draw. Hence, attackers Kokko and Michel Lugo had to make room for Jaimes McKee and Leung Chun-pong, while Ng Wai-chiu replaced Ju Yingzhi. Tai Po paid no heed and continued to dominate the game, with more tackles and passes around 10-men Eastern, and the guests appeared to have a much better strategy for handling the difficult pitch conditions.

Still, the Blues were not entirely without response and tried to threaten with set pieces, but Tai Po defended stoutly. McKee, in particular, was a nuisance with his speed, constantly breaking into space, but failed to deliver the final pass. Eastern had an excellent chance to equalize, as a cross from the left came within a ball’s width away from the Tai Po goal, but there was no player left to take advantage.

In the end, Tai Po wanted it more. Dudu replaced Nakamura and made an instant impact, when he headed home Wong Wai’s free kick from the edge of the penalty box. Any calls for the game to be canceled were long forgotten, at least by the Tai Po Fans, as the night turned into a true game of football no one could predict.

But that wasn’t the end. Tai Po finished off the game in style, when Wong Wai skirted past Tsang Kam-to and Yapp Hung-fai to place the ball home with aplomb.

All in all, both teams saw improvements in this game.  Eastern looked more fit and ready to fight than in their last encounter with Kitchee, but the red card was a blow that the Blues just could not recover from. They have now lost xi points from the first two games, which definitely puts their title challenge in danger. Compared to the previous draw with Dreams, Tai Po looked more focused and head coach Lee Chi-kin proved that the Greens might be a force to be seriously reckoned with this season.

Tai Po will face Rangers in yet another away outing on September 17th at Shum Shui Po Sports Ground, while Eastern will have to dust themselves off for their match against Lee Man on September 15th in Tseung Kwan O.

Date: Saturday 9th September, 2017 (8 pm)
Stadium: Mong Kok Stadium
Attendance: 1123

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