A long lay-off for the regular Premier League season continued on November 24th and 25th, with the first round of the group stage of the Sapling Cup, Hong Kong’s youth development tournament in which teams must field at least two under-22 players. Saturday provided the livelier games, albeit between the less fancied of the teams.
In perhaps the best game of the round, Tai Po took the lead against Dreams FC before poor game management and wasteful finishing saw them throw away the match. Two goals in the last 20 minutes for Dreams let them bag a 1-2 victory. Dreams had started brightly, their fluid passing play opening up the channels, while Tai Po – playing in front of a home crowd at Tai Po Sports Ground, although Sapling Cup venues are technically neutral – adopted a more direct approach. The balance of play settled in favour of Tai Po, however, and on 37 minutes they took the lead when towering Australian striker Harry Sawyer burst through the Dreams line to finish cleanly.
There followed a long period of Tai Po dominance, particularly in the early stages of an eventful second half. Dreams, however, clawed their way back into the contest with purpose, while Tai Po, unsettled at the back by their opponents’ press, lost the ability to control possession. Thus, the final half hour became quite a spectacle, with multiple chances exchanged at both ends. Dreams’ reward came on 72 minutes when Diego Higino calmly worked the space for a placed finish. Their cause was helped further when Tai Po’s Eduardo Praes – perhaps his side’s best player to that point – was dismissed a few minutes later for a second bookable offence. The crossbar was rattled at both ends before Nacho Martinez finished a delightful Dreams move on 88 minutes, stabbing home after a delicate knock-down.
Elsewhere, there was a flurry of goals at Yuen Long Stadium, where Pegasus defeated Hoi King 4-2, thanks largely to a hat-trick from Travis Major. The Australian gave Pegasus the lead on 17 minutes, with Mahama Awal doubling the advantage three minutes later. Hoi King reduced the deficit before half time through Mark Swainston, on loan from Kitchee. However, they were hit with another strike from Major three minutes after the restart. Former South Korean international Kim Dong-jin scored a penalty to curtail Pegasus’ lead again, but a third strike from Major on 69 minutes settled matters.
Early Premier League pace-setters Southern played out a 1-1 draw with Kitchee at Hammer Hill Road. The Aberdeeners were unable to hold on to the lead given to them by Serbian midfielder Marko Krasic in the tenth minute, with Ju Yingzhi drawing Kitchee level deep in the second half.
In the final match of the round, R&F coach Yeung Ching-kwong faced his former club Eastern at Tsing Yi Sports Ground, with honours ending even in this case too. Manuel Bleda for Eastern traded goals with R&F’s Liang Yongfeng, while Yeung went one better than in the sides’ last meeting, and avoided being sent to the stands.
Tai Po 1-2 Dreams (November 24th, 2:30pm, Tai Po Sports Ground, Attendance: 559)
Pegasus 4-2 Hoi King (November 24th, 5:30pm, Yuen Long Stadium, Attendance: 287)
Southern 1-1 Kitchee (November 25th, 2:30pm, Hammer Hill Road Sports Ground, Attendance: 616)
R&F 1-1 Eastern (November 25th, 5:30pm, Tsing Yi Sports Ground, Attendance: 484)