As the final action before the Lunar New Year, the third round of the Sapling Cup group stages was full of unexpected results, with bigger teams falling over and three 2-3 goalshows on display.
On Tuesday night, January 29th, Kitchee and Pegasus kicked off the latest round of Sapling Cup group games, with the Flying Horsemen coming from behind to take the points. Kitchee took the lead on 22 minutes through Barak Braunshtain who turned in a cross from Chan Shinichi. Pegasus levelled 5 minutes before the break, as Mahama Awal drove home after Law Hiu-chung’s deflected cross fell to the winger. Just before the break Kitchee restored their lead, when Krisztian Vadocz converted a penalty after Cheng Chin-lung was taken out by Leung Hin-kit in the Pegasus goal.
The second half belonged to Pegasus, however, and they found an equaliser with 20 minutes left, as a Jack Sealy through-ball found Shu Sasaki who tucked home at the second attempt. As the game appeared to drift towards a draw, Pegasus took the points. Junior first headed against the post, leaving the ball to Siu Chun-ming who steadied himself and placed the ball into the roof of the net with just three minutes left. The 3-2 win marked the first victory for Pegasus over Kitchee in the club’s history.
Having won their last encounter with Dreams 6-0 last month in the league, R&F started a second-string team with five U22 players in the line-up on Saturday, February 2nd. Dreams began the game lively, with attempts from Lam Hin-ting going wide. However, they soon took the lead as Jordan Lam struck a wonderful half-volley from the edge of the box to the top left corner on 29 minutes. R&F was searching for an equaliser in the second half and regained possession, but Godfred Karikari and Lo Kong-wai could not get their attempts on target. It was Dreams who almost scored again, as Pang Chiu-yin’s one-on-one shot was saved by Chen Zirong.
On Sunday, February 3rd, Eastern and Yuen Long locked horns in Group A of the Sapling Cup. The Tangerines dominated from the start and it only took them eleven minutes to open the scoring. Jean Moser stole the ball from Chan Ching-him’s feet at 35 yards, drove inside the box, and shot past Liang Yuhao. Only two minutes later, Eastern equalised, as Diego Eli powered a Robson Vaz’ corner home. In the 20th minute, the referee pointed to the spot, after seeing Eastern’s new U22 signing Jordan Jarvis handling Kessi’s pass. Cleiton made no mistake to convert the penalty to restore the lead for Yuen Long. 15 minutes later, Cleiton’s freekick from the right edge of the box was perfectly met by Wang Ruei, who made it 3-1 to Yuen Long. Everton Camargo had a chance to crawl one back for Eastern just before half time, as Yip Ka-yu’s clearance was sent straight to him, but Everton’s loop from the half-way line was way over the goal. After the restart, Yuen Long was still keen to add goals, but could not get past Liang Yuhao. Diego Eli headed in Yiu Ho-ming’s cross into the net in the 79th minute, but his effort was ruled offside. During injury time, Diego Eli doubled his tally with a penalty, as Chan Pak-hang was penalised for pulling Lee Hong-lim down inside the box, but it was not enough to secure any points for Eastern in this game. The loss to Yuen Long was another blow for the Blues, who only won a single game in their last 10 matches across all competitions. Meanwhile, head coach Chan Yuen-ting announced her resignation.
In the final game of the round, Southern coach Ricky Cheng handed Christopher Chung and Emmet Wan their first starts of the season. Wan, who had just recovered from an injury, headed Sham Kwok-fai’s cross from the right goalwards. Pang Tsz-kin managed to parry the ball out, but Wan reacted quickly with a diving header to send the rebound into the net in the 19th minute. Eight minutes, Lee Man equalised in a similar manner, as Stefen Pereira headed in Cheng Siu-kwan’s cross from the right at the far post. Southern continued to press in the second half and in the 67th minute Dhiego Martin’s long shot hit the crossbar. The ball fell back to Martin’s feet, who then dribbled across the goalmouth scramble and chipped the ball back into the center, where James Ha was ready to poke to ball across the goalline to make it 2-1 for Southern. In the last ten minutes, Lee Man went all out to score and saw Michael N’dri hitting the crossbar. Lee Man finally found the equaliser in the 82nd minute through Baek Ji-hoon’s volley, which found its way into the net via Beto Fronza. However, the teams did not settle for a draw, with a late drama taking place when Marko Krasic powered a looping header into the goal, following Lau Ka-ming’s cross, to give Southern all the points.
With two wins from two games, Dreams currently top Group A with six points. They also have an extra game in hand. Meanwhile, Eastern are the first team to be eliminated from the Sapling Cup with a single point in three matches. In Group B, Pegasus rise to the top with their latest win over Kitchee, but Lee Man and Southern are not far behind with a spare game to play. The next round of the Sapling Cup will be played on February 10th and 11th.
Kitchee 2:3 Pegasus (January 29th, 8pm, Mong Kok Stadium; Attendance: 678)
R&F 0:1 Dreams (February 2nd, 2:30pm, Hammer Hill Road Sports Ground; Attendance: 473)
Eastern 2:3 Yuen Long (February 3rd, 2:30pm, Hammer Hill Road Sports Ground; Attendance: 675)
Lee Man 2:3 Southern (February 3rd, 5:30pm, Tseung Kwang O Sports Ground; Attendance: 429)