Round 2 of the Hong Kong Premier League kicked off on Saturday, September 14th, as Eastern made their way up north into R&F territory. The Guangzhou satellite team was awarded use of the Yanzigang for another season after lengthy discussions with the HKFA, making this their first home game of the season.
Due to recent political developments, most Hong Kong-based fans have opted against a visit to the Yanzigang Stadium. The waterlogged pitch was even quieter than usual heading into the first game of the second round. At the end of the first half, Eastern’s Everton notched up an assist in added time, as his outswinging corner was guided into the fray by ex-Yuen Long teammate Jean Moser. R&F failed to react in time and allowed Diego Eli to tuck home. Fuli almost equalized after the restart, when Igor whipped in a cross from the left and Giovane glanced the ball at goal, but he was denied by the right post. The dying embers of the game saw Eastern put three past the hosts. Cleiton, Everton, and Chung Wai-keung outplayed the defense to slot in one goal apiece. This meant that the Blues returned to Hong Kong with all three points.
All eyes shifted back to Mong Kok Stadium, as Kitchee prepared to face district side Yuen Long in the early evening. After decimating promoted side Happy Valley on opening weekend, the Bluewaves would have loved nothing more than to add to their momentum with a dominant showing. Yuen Long, on the other hand, looked to spoil the show for the title contenders and get points on the board, after narrowly losing to Eastern in the first game.
The former champions were their usual aggressive selves from the start of the whistle. The pressure paid off for the home team right before the halftime bell. Yuen Long captain Fabio Lopes misjudged his header, as he attempted to clear a cross. His opposite number, Huang Yang, was lurking on the top of the box and took a shot at goal. The ball careened off a Yuen Long defender and Wellingsson de Souza pounced. He passed to the onrushing Jared Lum, and the Australian provided the finish. Kitchee led at halftime by a score of 1-0. The second half saw the introduction of Taiwanese defender Wang Ruei for the visiting side, and the defender nodded his side equal upon the restart. The tall center-back snuck behind the home defensive line and just ahead of Wang Zhenpeng, to send the ball past the keeper’s left shoulder and into the center of goal. The visitors’ elation turned to despair just three minutes later, as Kitchee duo Fernando and Manuel Bleda put the home team back in front. Fernando outstripped his defender and whipped in a cross-cum-shot from the right. Yip Ka-yiu got both hands to it, but could only parry the ball into his own six-yard box. Bleda evaded Fabio and calmly nodded the ball in to the side netting.
Nonetheless, Yuen Long’s Tsang Tsz-hin drew the visitors level on the 70th minute mark. The 23-year old midfielder backpedaled to collect a wayward pass, and launched a hopeful cross into the penalty box. The ball evaded everyone and bounced high into the right side netting. Both teams had to settle with sharing the spoils, as the game ended 2-2.
On Sunday, September 15th, Southern visited Sham Shui Po Sports Ground for an afternoon clash with Lee Man. Both teams come into this game with good momentum, having won their respective first matches of the season. Lee Man would be especially hungry to add another big team scalp to their collection after trouncing Pegasus in the opening round. The Southerners line up 4-3-3. Beto Fronza and Rehman marshaled the back line, while Tiçao occupied the middle of the park, flanked on both sides by former Tai Po stalwarts Philip Chan and Jack Sealy. James Ha and Dhiego Martins took up positions on the wing, with Travis Major in the heart of attack. Lee Man also opted to go with a 4-3-3, fielding an essentially unchanged lineup from the opening round, with Tse Long-hin and Cheng Siu-kwan the only ones to make way for Wong Yim-kwan and Gil.
Southern took the lead within two minutes of the start when Dhiego Martins sprinted down the left and chipped a cross for Travis Major. The Australian had ample time to place his header, and sent the ball looping gently into the right side netting. The Bees were playing a little clumsily in the beginning, often outplayed down their wings, as the Aberdeeners sprayed the ball all around their third of the park. The Southern’s moments of individual brilliance kept Lee Man at bay for a short time. Rehman’s physical play and Martin’s trickery were particularly deserving of mention. However, the game was back on again when Lee Man were awarded a penalty in the 25th minute after Michaël N’dri had been pulled down in the box. The Frenchman put the ball low and to the centre-left to draw the home team level.
Lee Man almost stunned the visitors again after the restart, a lighting attack down both wings cleared right in front of goal in the very last second. Southern continued to look disorganized, such was the constant harrying from the home players. Lee Man scored off a brilliant counter in the 50th minute. Southern had two shots blocked in the penalty area in quick succession, and the ball came to the feet of N’dri who cleared the ball up the field. Lee Man’s new striker Gil and Southern’s Jack Sealy gave chase, but at the crucial moment Jack Sealy goes down in what could only be described as a sudden case of the sea legs, and Gil rounded keeper Tse Tak-him to put the Bees ahead. Southern finally managed to equalize at the death, after seven minutes were tacked on after regulation. Dhiego whipped in a free kick from the right, and the ball dropped in front of goal. Beto Fronza was the first to get there, and nudged it past the onrushing Yuen Ho-chun. The game finished 2-2, as Lee Man failed to hold on to their lead, after another impressive performance against a top-table side.
At the same time, across the ways at Tuen Mun Tang Shiu Kin Sports Ground, Rangers and Happy Valley battled for their first points since returning to Hong Kong’s top tier football competition. Both teams were comprehensively beaten in their first games, and would be desperate to notch points on the board to get their respective seasons going. Things were slow going in the first half, as possession was traded back and forth between the two newly promoted sides. Happy Valley would take a lead in the 56th minute mark, through Manu Gavilán. The former U19 Spanish international ran onto a high pass and shook off his defenders. He took a shot that lacked any real bite, but Rangers keeper Chan Pak-ho, comically out of position on his goal line, could only flop as the ball trickled in. Gavilán’s goal would prove the match winner for the visiting side, as last year’s Division One champs eked out a 1-0 victory over Rangers.
Eventually, Tai Po made the trek to Hong Kong Stadium to face Pegasus in the closing game of Week 2. Neither team had the best start to the season, with Tai Po being crushed at home by R&F, and Pegasus losing to Lee Man in the opening fixtures. Both teams were desperate to notch their first three points of the season, and one could practically smell the burning gunpowder on the pitch as the players came out for their warm-ups.
Chances were few and far between for the Greens, as the Pegasus midfield pulled the champions into all sorts of shape across the pitch. The defense worked tirelessly to snuff out the passes in the final third, but the disconnect in midfield meant that often the ball returned to Horsemen possession. It took until the second half before the deadlock was broken. Michael Luk paused at the edge of the area before shifting the ball to the right to Lugo. Wingback Lew Wai-yip received a short pass before sending a grounded cross across the face of goal. Chan Man-fai dummied well and Sandro stroked the ball home. However, Pegasus picked up the pace as they looked for the equalizer. Four minutes of added time were announced, and Pegasus bombed the Tai Po box with free kick after corner after free kick and eventually scored in the 95th minute thanks to a well-worked team goal with Lokolingoy tucking home from close range. Both teams settled for their first points of the season.
Tempers boiled over at the end of the contest and Kim Minki was giving his marching orders for excessive complaints. The mercurial Korean lashed out, kicking a water bottle away as he made his way towards the player’s tunnel. The bottle struck the Pegasus bench, which riled up the Pegasus camp, rushing out to confront the player for his conduct. Before any of the coaches could intervene, Chan Wai-ho took the bottle of water and poured it all over Kim. Fighting broke out between staff and players of both teams.
League action will resume on September 28th.
R&F 0:4 Eastern (September 14th, 2:30pm, Yanzigang Stadium, Attendance: 440)
Kitchee 2:2 Yuen Long (September 14th, 5:30pm, Mongkok Stadium, Attendance: 1546)
Rangers 0:1 HVAA (September 15th, 2:30pm, Tuen Mun TSK Sports Ground, Attendance: 432)
Lee Man 2:2 Southern (September 15th, Sham Shui Po Sports Ground, Attendance: 972)
Pegasus 1:1 Tai Po (September 16th, 8:00pm, Hong Kong Stadium, Attendence: 635)