A stoppage time winner gifted Lee Man the top spot of Group B in the Sapling Cup on March 3rd, while 10-men Yuen Long’s win over Dreams one day earlier made them first in Group A. This means the currently 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th placed teams in the league advance to the semi finals of the cup competition. Meanwhile in the Premier League, Pegasus and Eastern shared points to keep themselves in reach for a top five finish.
With only theoretical chances to advance in the Sapling Cup, Tai Po fielded a second-string team against R&F on March 1st, already with an eye on the away AFC Cup qualifier match on Wednesday, March 6th, against Ruomyong in Pyongyang, North Korea. It only took the Guangzhou club 10 minutes to score, as Paulinho headed home from a Lo Kong-wai cross. Tai Po’s Chiu Siu-wai and Cheng Tsz-sum both had chances to equalise, but could not get their attempts goalward. Nine minutes after the break, Paulinho chested down Li Cheuk-hon’s cross before sending a looping shot over Li Hon-ho into Tai Po’s goal to make it 2:0. Chung Wai-keung then found the net for Tai Po, but his effort was ruled offside. In added time, R&F’s U22 player Mak Fu-shing earned his first professional goal as he volleyed home from Lo Kong-wai’s cross. In his first start and first full game this season, Au Yeung Yiu-chung found the consolation goal for the Greens as he headed Yeung Chi-lun’s cross in to make it 3:1 for the final score.
On Saturday, March 2nd, Southern needed the win to maintain any hope of surviving in the Cup, while eliminated Hoi King was hit by injuries and suspensions in their line-up. The Aberdeeners dominated right from the start, with Nikola Komazac leading the attack in his first start since his three-month injury lay-off. The striker found the back of the net with just twelve minutes played, and headed against the post at the 29-minute mark. Two minutes later he bagged his second of the day, as he converted from the spot, after Southern was awarded a penalty after Wong Yiu-fu had handled the ball inside the box. After the break, Hoi King had the chance to crawl one back, but both Kim Min-ki’s and Robert’s attempts were cleared. In added time, Nikola Komazac completed his hat-trick with a header from a Lau Ka-ming freekick.
While Dreams were already through to the next round and started with four U22 players, Yuen Long needed a win to advance, and it was all Yuen Long right from the beginning. Jean Moser had chances to open the score for the away team, but it was Dreams who took the lead first. In the 23rd minute, Poon Pak-on tapped the ball in following a free kick, after Pablo headed it down at the far post to make it 1:0. Five minutes later, Jean Moser headed past Leung Man-lai from a Cleiton cross to make it level. Yuen Long went down to 10 men, when Chan Ka-ho was sent off for a late challenge on Jonathan Acosta, who was sent one-on-one and looped the ball past the keeper at 30 yards out. But the one-man disadvantage did not hold Yuen Long back, as they led 2:1 at half time, when Chan Hiu-fung poked Cleiton’s low ball into the net at the far post, one minute into stoppage time. Dreams regained much possession after the break, despite stand-in keeper Yip Ka-yu pulling a string of saves. Nonetheless, they found the equaliser through an almost 40-yard stunning half-volley from Marcos Gondra in the 66th minute. However, only seven minutes later, Yuen Long restored their lead to 3:2 with Wang Ruei’s 30-yard volley, as Dreams tried to clear the ball after Jean Moser headed against the post. Their win was sealed as Fabio Lopes made it 4:2 with a diving header from Cleiton’s corner in the 82nd minute.
In the final match of the weekend, Lee Man and Kitchee would have required a win to secure the final spot of the semi finals, while Southern was also awaiting their fate of progressing, should the result be a draw. Both teams started cautiously into the game and were mostly exchanging balls in the midfield. Seo Sang-min and Leong Ka-hang came closest for their respective teams with their efforts just over the crossbar, but the first half ended with no shots on target recorded on either side. However, it only took four minutes after the break for Lee Man to break the deadlock, when Leong Ka-hang headed home Wong Yim-kwan’s cross from the right. The intensity of the match heightened as Kitchee chased for an equaliser, but it was Lee Man who almost added on the score in the 59th minute, when Cheng Siu-kwan skipped past the out-coming Guo Jianqiao, but his shot from the sidelines flew across the open goal. Moments later, Josip Tadic converted Clement Benhaddouche’s pass into the net to make it 1-1. Soon after, Leong Ka-hang restored the Bees’ lead to 2:1 with his second of the day, as he poked in Wong Yim-kwan’s pass from the right. With seven minutes remaining, substitute Fernando was picked up down the left flank, where he drove inside the box before sending the ball past Pang Tsz-kin to equalise for Kitchee again. Just when Southern looked destined for the final spot of the last four, Fran Gonzalez found the back of the net one minute into stoppage time, as he tapped in Wong Yim-kwan’s pass to send his team to top of Group B.
Yuen Long will meet Pegasus in the next stage of the Sapling Cup, while Lee Man will face Dreams. The games will take place on April 13th and 14th.
In the stand alone Hong Kong Premier League action amidst the Sapling Cup weekend, sixth-placed Pegasus took on fifth-placed Eastern on Saturday night, March 2nd, in a evenly matched encounter. Eastern took the lead in the 26th minute, as Everton Camargo surged down from the right and sent a shot that hit the woodwork, but Jaimes McKee headed the rebound in at the near post. Both teams were forced to make substitutions on injuries to their main men Cheung Chi-yung and Robson. The equaliser for the Flying Horsemen came in the 62nd minute, when substitute Juninho scored with diving header from a Chan Siu-ki cross. In search for the winner, Everton Camargo hit the post twice, while Lee Hong-lim’s one-on-one shot was collected by Zhang Chunhui, though the Blues finally restored the lead through Lam Ka-wai. In the 77th minute, the playmaker went unmarked right in the middle of the box and slotted home Yiu Ho-ming’s low cross from the left. Two minutes before the final whistle, Pegasus equalised again, when Yuen Chun-sing scored from a failed Eastern clearance to ensure that both teams took a point home and maintained their positions in the table.
Taipo 1:3 R&F (March 1st 8:00pm, Tsing Yi Sports Ground, Attendance: 301)
Southern 3:0 Hoi King (March 2nd 2:30pm, Tsing Yi Sports Ground, Attendance: 629)
Dreams 2:4 Yuen Long (March 2nd 5:30pm, Tsing Yi Sports Ground, Attendance: 629)
Pegasus 2:2 Eastern (March 2nd 8:00pm, Mong Kok Stadium, Attendance: 1022)
Lee Man 3:2 Kitchee (March 3rd 5:30pm, Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground, Attendance: 711)