Eastern close to title after Kitchee stunned by Southern

Credit: HKFA

With more twists and turns in the previous round of actions, the title race of the Premier League will guarantee to be a thriller. In this past week, Eastern returned to pole position for now after beating Happy Valley. Kitchee settled with a disappointing draw with Southern. Lee Man were officially eliminated from contention, suffering a loss to R&F.

Leading the table with two rounds remaining, Kitchee were tested by the visiting Southern on Sunday, October 4, at Hong Kong Stadium. Kawase Kota’s equalizer in the 84th minute forced a 1-1 draw, putting the Bluewaves to win the title in jeopardy.

Despite labeled as underdogs, Southern repeatedly acted as spoilers since the restart of the league. Two weeks ago, they managed a 2-2 draw with R&F, another league-winning favorites.

Hence, Alex Chu, head coach of Kitchee, handled the match with caution. He decided to use Wellingsson de Souza as left-winger to give Chan Shunichi some rest while pairing Nikolas Komazec and Manu Gavilán as strikers for the first time. Defender Tong Kin-man was ineligible to play while serving a suspension after an accumulation of five bookings.

For the Aberdeeners, despite Stefan Pereira and James Ha were penciled in as forwards, the latter worked alone upfront as the team mainly played in their own half most of the time.

As advertised, Kitchee wasted no time to seek the opening goal. In the 11th minute, Gavilán received a superb through pass from Souza but the Spaniard rushed on the breakaway, allowing Tse Tak-him to make a terrific block.

The defensive-minded Southern almost surprised the home side late in the first half when a shot from Sasaki Shu barely missed the far post.

After handing Southern a 5-1 loss in the first round, it was hard to believe that Kitchee were drawn 0-0 after 45 minutes. Before the end of the first half, Komazec came close to putting his name on the board with a header, and Gavilán was denied again by great goalkeeping effort.

Desperate for a lead, the Bluewaves squandered few more good opportunities to begin the second half. Moreover, Tse’s splendid save rejected a terrific effort by Souza some 30 yards away. As the clock kept ticking, time looked to be the hosts’ biggest enemy, more than the visitors.

Finally, Kitchee took the lead at the 74th-minute mark. It was the hard-working Gavilán, who tapped in from close range after receiving Komazec’s cross.

However, with six minutes left in regulation time, Southern found the equalizer. Kawase out-jumped Li Ngai-hoi and Hélio Goncalves in the box for the tying goal.

Although a long stoppage time of six minutes was added, Kitchee, who looked dejected after the final whistle, had to settle with a draw.

After losing in the Senior Shield a week ago, Lee Man were eliminated in the league title race as well. On Monday, October 5, when they hosted R&F at Mongkok Stadium, Jordan Lam tallied the decider to hand Lee Man a 1-0 loss.

To begin the match, R&F benefitted from a turnover for a quick counter-attack that resulted in a breakaway. But Giovane Da Silva’s poor finish allowed Yuen Ho-chun to make the first stop of the afternoon.

Lee Man then countered with a shot from Yuto Nakamura, who was set up on the left by Lee Hong-lim.

Neither side has not been much to show for in the first half, as both teams spend most of the time on midfield battle. Nonetheless, the visitors seemed to hold a slight advantage with better possession and their direct attack was more dangerous than the home side.

However, the deadlock was broken in the 41st minute in favorite of R&F. Midfielder Jordan Lam welcomed Igor Sartori’s corner to head home his first goal of the season.

At half-time, the Bees made double substitutions to increase pressure on the opposition, replacing Martins Givanilton and Chan Hin-kwong with Leong Ka-hang and Cheng Siu-kwan respectively. The team looked better in the second half, gaining back some possession while creating more chances. Leong made an impact by setting up Nakamura, whose one-timer sailed over the target.

Lee Man were forced to make more another change in the 66th minute when Lee Hong-Lim suffered an injury after a rough tackle by Dudu, and he was replaced by Chang Hei-yin.

Their best chance came after the water break, when Tam Lok-hin fired a shot at the edge of the box but it went out by the post after a deflection by Dudu. In the end, their tying goal never came. Their fourth defeat of the season made them fall short of the title race.

Eastern hosted Happy Valley to wrap up the penultimate round on October 6 at Mongkok Stadium. The Blues ended up with a convincing victory of 4-0.

As expected, the home side dominated for the most part of the game. Although Everton Camargo could not play to serve the automatic suspension, Sandro, Lucas Silva and Chen Hao-wei provided sufficient power up front to look for a comfortable victory.

However, Chung Wai-ho has been splendid, denying most of Eastern chances in the first half. But he finally conceded in the 44th minute. Silva’s header hit the crossbar initially, but Wong Wai’s picked up the rebound for an easy finish with a heading effort.

Returning from the dressing room, Eastern tallied two goals in a span of five minutes. First, Lee Ka-yiu sent a cross into the penalty area for Lucas, whose one-timer ended up on top of the net. Later, João Emir directly curved in the free kick near the goal line, without it being touched before entering the net at far post.

Lucas tallied his second of the afternoon at the 81-minute mark to wrap up Eastern’s shutout win.

The Blues collected 18 points with nine games to move to the first position. Second place belongs to Kitchee with 17 points, while R&F, also with 17 points, is at third by a worse aggregate against the Bluewaves. At the bottom half of the table, Lee Man is fourth with 13 points, followed by Southern and Happy Valley in such order.

The final round’s results will determine the champions of 2019-20. If Kitchee beat Happy Valley and Eastern lose to or draw with R&F, the Bluewaves will be the grand winners. However, Eastern will be crowned as long as they beat R&F, regardless of Kitchee’s outcome. The Guangzhou-based club has to beat Eastern with Kitchee losing to win the league title.



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