Kitchee stumble as R&F march on

Photo: Zinc Yeung (offside.hk)

After the Guangdong-Hong Kong Cup, it was time to turn our eyes, once again, to the Hong Kong Premier League. The weekend of January 12th and 13th saw some exciting action on the pitch, with Southern causing a major upset against Kitchee, while Dreams received a thrashing from R&F. On Sunday, district sides Tai Po and Yuen Long faced off with Hoi King and Pegasus respectively. 

First order of business on Saturday was to board the train to Guangzhou, as R&F (HK) hosted the Dreamers at Yanzigang Stadium. Unfortunately for the visitors, they were played off the park by an on-fire Fuli side, who put six in the net and claimed all three points.

R&F were aggressive, pinning the Pink-and-Blacks in their own half from the first touch on the ball. The pressure was telling and paid off handsomely as the clock moved past fifteen minutes. Itaparica’s cross from outside the box struck a defender and drifted high, before it was met by Lam Zhi-gin’s beautiful acrobatic effort to take the lead. Dreams attempted to respond through Nacho Martinez, but keeper Zhou Yuchen easily parried his tame shot.

Dreams were kicking themselves for missing that chance two minutes later. Itaparica was again in the centre of things as a hacked Dreams defense fell to his feet. The midfielder lobbed incoming keeper To Chun-kit, with Tiago de Leonco nodding in the ball to make it 2-0. Despite their continued dominance, R&F could not add to their tally in the first half, and both teams retreated to the sheds at halftime.

Dreams were desperate to get something from the game, but were undone again right at the beginning of the second half. Giovane de Silva’s right cross struck the crossbar. Lo Kwan-yee did brilliantly to keep the ball in play, and Leonco finished with aplomb.

The party really started after that: Sean Tse and Giovane added further insult to injury, with the latter bagging a brace in the 90th minute. The whistle ended a very forgettable afternoon for Dreams FC, with the final score line settled at 6-0.

We are moving on to the island side of things, where Kitchee travelled to the again-refurbished Aberdeen Sports Ground to face Southern on a sunny afternoon. Kitchee were without their new signing Matt Smith who was reportedly not ready to replace Kim Bong-jin yet. Krisztian Vadocz was also left on the bench due to an injury.

Southern started as the brighter of the two teams, with striker Dhiego Martins testing the Bluewaves from a tight angle, wowing supporters as he slipped past several blue shirts and passed to “Bullet” James Ha, only to be foiled by Wang Zhenpeng.

Kitchee did not take that challenge kindly, and immediately counterattacked. A beautiful pass from the back found Lucas Silva up in the Southern box, but the hulking striker took a heavy second touch that was cleared by Sham Kwok-fai.

Kitchee fell behind 19 minutes into the game, as Sham Kwok-fai transformed from last defender to assist-giver. The right-back’s cross was only partially cleared, and Dhiego wasted no time from inside the area. Kitchee would be very disappointed with their defending there, as both Tong Kin-man and Wang Zhenpeng’s efforts inadvertently set up the Brazilian striker for his goal.

Southern scored again in the 37th minute, following an audacious freekick combination from the Island team. Midfielder Michael Luk opted to flick the ball up and over the wall of blue shirts. In struggling for possession, Blues defender Dani Cancela nodded the ball away from Dhiego, only to fall to the feel of “Bullet” Ha. The home side were flying, two goals to the good.

Kitchee struggled to get back into the game. Their most noteworthy effort was a looping shot from Jared Lum from outside the box that sailed calmly into the arms of keeper Tse Tak-him. Kitchee were hopeless in the end and fell to their already second defeat of the seson.

Come afternoon on Sunday, the New Territories took the centre stage first, where Tai Po entertained foot-of-the-table Hoi King at home. Having picked up just one point all season, Hoi King desperately needed a good performance to trip up the Greens.

Unfortunately for the newcomers, the Tai Po players had something else in mind. With Sawyer and Igor Sartori leading the line, the home team laid siege to the Hoi King team as they broke up play and stretched the defense up and down the wings. Ex-Tai Po keeper Paulo Cesar managed to keep Wong Wai off the scoresheet from a straight freekick, but was helpless against the Sartori-Lugo combo: the former driving deep into the penalty area before laying it off for the latter to stroke into the net.

Hoi King have utilized the winter transfer window well, adding a host of new players in their bid for survival. Nonetheless, it was veteran Christian Annan who remained their most influential player and seemed at times to drag his entire team from attack to defense.

Alas, messy positioning at the back meant that the Kingsmen had a massive hill to climb. Wong Wai pulled in defenders inside the penalty area before laying off to Lugo, and the Brazilian’s lofted pass was tucked away by the head of Chan Siu-kwan running in from the left. The halftime whistle sounded with Tai Po leading 2-0.

The second half started with Taipo’s new number 10, João Emir, being handed his debut. The attacking midfielder added more beef to the Greens midfield, and let off an effort on goal that drifted just wide in the 54th minute.

Tai Po would further extend their lead in the 82nd minute, when a high corner kick was met with a flying header from towering striker Harrison Sawyer, which nestled into the top right corner with Paulo Cesar very well beaten. The Australian nearly bagged a brace if not for the Hoi King upright in his way, with the subsequent follow-up from Sartori flying well wide away from goal. The high-octane game puttered out 3-0, as Tai Po gained three points to move up the table.

The last match of the weekend took place at Mong Kok Stadium, where Hong Kong Pegasus hosted Yuen Long on Sunday evening.

Much was made about the swap-deal of João Emir and David Lazari between Tai Po and Pegasus. Regardless of how fans may feel about the process, each player handed in respectable debuts for their new clubs. Within ten minutes, David Lazari nearly notched his first assist in red for the Flying Horsemen, with his high cross narrowly missing the sliding boot of Sasaki Shu.

The white-clad Tangerines had a plethora of near misses. Caleb and Cleiton saw their combination play dribbling just wide to the left of goal, while a second Cleiton attempt from outside the box went nowhere. Both teams retreated at halftime tied at 0-0.

The seesawing continued after the break. Travis Major had the best chance for Pegasus but saw his headed goal ruled out. The deadlock was finally broken at the 89th minute, when left back Cheung Kin-fung’s effort cannoned off the Pegasus crossbar, with Chan Kwong-ho the quickest to react on the rebound. The Yuen Long side of the stadium erupted into delirium.

But wait, the drama does not end there! Deep into added time, Tangerine centre-back Tomas Maronesi was judged to have handled the ball in the box, gifting an unlikely lifeline to Pegasus. Travis Major tucked away his shot at the second time of asking to bring the scores even at 1-1. The game ended to a chorus of boos from the away end, as the points were shared.

On Wednesday, January 15th, Eastern will host Lee Man at the Hong Kong Stadium at 8pm, and the coming weekend the Long Lions will travel up to Guangzhou for a match with R&F in what could well become an early title six pointer. Tai Po will face Yuen Long at home on the afternoon of Saturday, January 19th, while Dreams travel to Mong Kok to entertain Pegasus on the same day. Sunday will see games at Sham Shui Po Sports Ground and Mong Kok Stadium, with Hoi King hosting Southern, and Kitchee welcoming Lee Man. Kitchee will look for an important win, as they find themselves only on fifth place in the table at the moment.

Match Results

R&F 6:0 Dreams (January 12th, 2:30pm, Yanzigang Stadium; Attendance: 754)
Southern 2:0 Kitchee (January 12th, 2:30pm, Aberdeen Sports Ground; Attendence: 1184)
Tai Po 3:0 Hoi King (January 13th, 2:30pm; Tai Po Sports Ground, Attendence: 798)
Pegasus 1:1 Yuen Long (January 13th, 5:30pm, Mong Kok Stadium; Attendence: 1123)


Photo gallery by Zinc Yeung (offside.hk)

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