The Hong Kong Premier League is back! With five of the six participating teams still standing good chances of winning the league, every point would be crucial to determine the outcome in the champions. Actions from the last weekend saw Eastern edging past Kitchee, Southern grasping a last-minute point from R&F, and Lee Man rising to the top with a win over Happy Valley.
Local football returns after 181 days, since the last game was held back in March. The remainder of the season will remain behind closed doors, with strict social distancing measures to be followed, including team staff and players to be kept in quarantine bubbles, and only a total of 180 are allowed into the ground every game. Similar to most resuming leagues, five substitutions can be made at three intervals and there will be water breaks at each half.
The first actions saw Eastern host Kitchee at Tseung Kwan O on a Saturday afternoon after a rainy week. In the first half, it was evident that both sides were trying to regain their pace and match conditions, given that the teams only had 2 weeks of training prior to the restart. The first casualty came only after half an hour as Huang Yang had to come off with a knee injury. The closest opportunity in the half came from Wellingsson de Souza, who broke the offside trap but put his attempt wide. The Blues put on double substitutions after the break and it was soon paid off when Diego Eli rose above to head in substitute Joao Emir’s corner at the 52nd minute. Eleven minutes later, Nikolas Komazec levelled things up from the spot, after Chan Shinchi earned the penalty with his drive from the left. Another half-time substitute Chung Wai-keung restored the lead for Eastern after just 5 minutes, being picked by a long pass from Joao Emir, before dribbling into the box and shot past the keeper. Chan Shinichi almost earned the Bluewaves a point with a superb long-range drive in the injury time.
On Sunday afternoon it was a clash between two teams that saw major changes to their squads during the pause. Southern only has 18 players registered for the remainder of the competition including their new player-head coach Zesh Rehman, while R&F also has new summer signings Jared Lum, Tsui Wang-kit and Fung Hing-wa ineligible to play. Both teams appeared to be in better momentum than their counterparts on Saturday, as Giovane hit the post with a volley from the edge of the box early in the game, whilst Philip Chan’s solo drive from his own half wowed many until he was fouled just outside the box. It was Southern who opened the score as Kawase Kota jumped above his defenders to head in Sasaki Shu’s corner 2 minutes before the break. Igor Satori quickly handed R&F the lead with a second-half double, first with a penalty at 51’ before chesting down Giovane’s cross to curl it home 11 minutes later. Southern went a man down with 5 minutes remaining on the clock as Jack Sealy was shown a second yellow over a dangerous tackle. However R&F’s advantage did not last long as Zhou Yuchen also received his marching order with his foul on youngster Cheng Chun-wang outside the box. Sasaki Shu secured the Aberdeeners with a point with a superb freekick at 94’.
As there will be no relegation and no chance to challenge the title, Happy Valley participates with the aim of developing their young players. They started with 8 U21 players with their only foreigner Luciano as captain, while previous AFC player Jahangir Khan played his first game as a local player. Lee Man started brightly and took the lead after six minutes. Captain Ngan Lok-fung smashed Givanilton’s clever cutback pass with a left-footed effort to the far post. Michael N’Dri almost doubled the lead a few minutes later, when he was found by Bruno Pinheiro’s beautifully long ball but the French’s half volley went wide. Cheng Siu-kwan also saw his direct freekick attempt tipped over by Chung Wai-ho. Happy Valley also had their chances and almost equalised at 33rd minute, when Ng Ka-yeung’s slide-in at the near post from Jahan Khan’s low cross was blocked by Yuen Ho-chun’s leg. As the rain poured on, the wealth of experience from the Bees gave them the extra edge. In the 62nd minute, new signing Nakamura Yuto was on target, when Michael N’dri found an unmarked Lee hong-lim at the far post who then fed it back to Nakamura poke home.
Lee Man’s comfortable win earned them the top of the table with 13 points from 7 games, a point more than Eastern at the second. R&F and Kitchee closely follow with a game in hand. The last-minute equaliser kept Southern at 5th and remained in the title race with only 5 points off the top.
Eastern 2:1 Kitchee (Sep 19th 3pm, Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground, behind closed doors)
Southern 2:2 R&F (Sep 20th 3pm, Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground, behind closed doors)
Lee Man 2:0 Happy Valley (Sep 21st 3pm, Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground, behind closed doors)