The Hong Kong Premier League picked up from where it ended back in May, with the season opener involving the same teams from the title-deciding season finale in Kitchee and Eastern. Reigning champions Kitchee came out on top again this time, thanks to a Manu Gavilan’s first-half strike, in front of 3163 fans at Mong Kok Stadium.
Both teams made several changes to their previous Sapling Cup outings, whilst U22 players are not compulsory in the league. Both sides also have three U23 players being called up to the AFC U23 Qualifiers in Japan, including Chan Shinichi and Chu Wai-kwan who started today against Cambodia U23. 21-year-old Sun Ming-him, who already has 4 goals from 5 games in the Sapling Cup, was too important for Eastern to release him for U23 duty during this non-FIFA international period. Eastern started all their three new Spanish signings from the bench, while Charlie Scott was the only newcomer starting for the Bluewaves.
Early on, Matt Lam challenged Paulo Cesar with a curling effort that was tipped over, but the goal soon came in the opposite end. In the 14th minute, Manu Gavilan unleashed an unstoppable shot into the far side of the net, after Matt Orr’s close-range effort was denied. Sun Ming-him also showed his importance for his team with his lively performance in the first half, particularly wowing the crowds by muscling out Dani Cancela on an instance. However, the double shield in midfield in Charlie Scott and Huang Yang made it difficult for Eastern to enter the final third.
The Blues switched to 3 backs by sending Marcos Gondra on for Leung Chun-pong and allowed Yue Tsz-nam higher on the pitch on the right. The move also enabled Manu Gavilan to explore further down Eastern’s left, who almost found Dejan Damjanovic at the goalmouth before the defenders arrived to clear. Yue Tze-nam shone for the Blues in the second half in a more advanced position and had a penalty claim dismissed by the referee when he fell down inside the box. The visitors came closest to equalise by an attack initiated by Yue, where Mikael’s header from Sun Ming-him’s cross was ruled offside. As Eastern pressed forward, the space opened up for the host for a counter-attack in the final half-hour. Raul Baena picked up Dejan Damjanovic on a quick counter, who set up Charlie Scott with a tight angle shot blocked by a back-chasing Yue Tsz-nam. Kitchee’s efficient front three had further opportunities to double the lead, firstly through Dejan testing his luck with a mid-range shot, whilst Matthew Orr also saw his efforts cleared off the line by Clayton and also denied by the woodwork. During the stoppage time, Matt Lam was shown his second yellow for an elbow but the scoreline remained 1:0 to Kitchee.
Kitchee 1:0 Eastern (Oct 23th 4:30pm, Mong Kok Stadium, Attendance: 3163)