After an unexpected victory for Yuen Long over Kitchee on Christmas Eve, Southern planned to follow their district team fellows when they encountered Eastern on December 25th at Mong Kok Stadium. However, it was Eastern – despite being down to ten men for the last 15 minutes – who eliminated the Aberdeeners in the end, winning 1-0.
The only goal of the day, scored by Manuel Bleda in the 38th minute, proved to be the difference of the contest and sent Eastern to their third consecutive Senior Shield final. Jaimes McKee delivered the assist, after a brief one-two with Ju Yingzhi, sending a low cross to Bleda who had no trouble to beat Tse Tak-him at the near post.
Once again, the match rapidly turned into a hot-tempered affair, following the last outing of both sides in November, during which the referee handed out six bookings and a couple of red cards, while Carles Martinez suffered a relatively serious injury after a rough tackle by Leung Chun-pong. However, Martinez just returned in time for this semi-final.
Two minutes before Bleda’s goal, Wellingsson de Souza of Southern was close to put his name on the scoreboard, after he had sneaked past two defenders to face Yapp Hung-fai all by himself. However, he wasted his shot attempt, which would have been more threatening if he had pulled the trigger after a few more meters in the penalty box.
In the second half, both sides struggled to create scoring opportunities. Southern looked desperate for a tie, while Eastern searched for some insurance. However, the latter had to defend their thin lead with ten men for the last 15 minutes. Defender Jo Tae-keun’s erratic back-pass to goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai was intercepted by Weillingsson de Souza, leaving Yapp no other chance to knock Souza down, right at the edge of the penalty area. Referee Liu Kwok-man did not hesitate to give Yapp the obligatory red card, forcing coach Szeto Man-chun to use his last substitution to bring on 40-year-old goalkeeping backup Ho Kwok-chuen for McKee.
Despite their one-man advantage, it was too little too late for Ricky Cheng’s side, who squandered a few more chances to force the game into extra time. To make things even more dramatic, Che Runqiu’s header missed an empty net right before the final whistle, already more than eighth minutes into stoppage time.
As a result, a big crowd of 2,283 people witnessed Eastern advancing to the prestigious Senior Shield final in which they will face Yuen Long on January 27th at Hong Kong Stadium.