A remarkable late header by captain Fran Gonzalez crowned Lee Man as the 2019 Sapling Cup champions, making it the club’s first ever silverware since its establishment in 2017, despite Yuen Long overcoming a two-goal deficit to take the game into extra time.
While no club has ever won the Sapling Cup twice, either team this year would have been new winners for the 4th edition of the tournament. It would have also meant the first ever season trophy achieved by their head coaches Kenneth Kwok or Chan Hiu-ming. In their previous league meetings this season, Yuen Long never lost to Lee Man, collecting an away win and a home draw.
A fairly close first half saw chances on both ends, forcing saves from the goalkeepers. Yuen Long was more dangerous overall and Jean Moser came closest when he was found by Kessi’s through ball, but his attempt could not get past Yuen Ho-chun. On the other end, Michael N’dri also saw his volley collected by Chan Ka-ho.
As rain started to pour heavily during half time, the pitch got slippery and the second half soon transformed into a different game. The deadlock was eventually broken by Serhii Shapoval, after Stefan Pereira’s low pass travelled past three defenders in the 61st minute. Pereira soon had another chance to double the lead, but his one-on-one shot was denied by Chan Ka-ho. While the Tangerines searched for an equaliser, their attacks opened up space at the back for quick counter-attacks from the Bees. In the 75th minute, Cheng Siu-kwan found Michael N’dri at the far post, who saw his header hitting the post and onto Wong Yim-kwan. Although his first attempt was blocked by Wang Ruei, he netted his first ever professional goal on the rebound.
The district team responded by gearing up and just one minute later Lee Oi-hin scored from close range to pull one back for Yuen Long, following a cross from Fabio Lopes. Although it was initially recorded as an own goal by his marker Wong Yim-kwan, it was later corrected as the debut goal of the 19-year-old forward. Cleiton later forced a flying save from Yuen Ho-chun after a freekick, while Stefan Pereira, Michael N’dri and Cheng Siu-kwan all could not capitalise on a counter. However, with a minute remaining in regular time, substitute Law Chun-ting at the far post sent home Chan Pak-hang’s cross to level things up for Yuen Long.
As the rain finally stopped and the sky brightened up for extra time, the waterlogged pitch also started to improve. Both sides slowed things down a bit following the fast-paced final 15 minutes, however, Lee Man almost took the lead when Michael N’dri dribbled past Chan Ka-ho, who came out of his box following a miscommunication with Wang Ruei. But N’dri was once again denied by the woodwork.
The turning point of the match came with five minutes remaining, when Kessi was shown a controversial straight red for elbowing an opponent while preparing for a free kick. With an extra man, the Bees found their winner through their captain Fran Gonzalez, who brilliantly headed home a corner to make it 3-2. That also marked the defender’s sixth goal of the tournament, making him the top scorer of the Sapling Cup.
Yuen Long’s captain Fabio Lopes had another two chances in the dying minutes, but both went over the crossbar.
Lee Man also went down to 10 men when Yu Wai-lim received the marching orders, being booked twice within three minutes. However, the scoreline remained at 3-2 for Lee Man, crowning them as the 2019 Sapling Cup champions.
Yuen Long 2:3 Lee Man (April 27th 4:00pm, Mong Kok Stadium; Attendance: 2685)