Friday night saw a clash between last year’s First Division champions and runners-up in the Hong Kong Premier League, as Hong Kong FC hosted Tai Po at the HKFC Stadium. With both sides having lost their opening match, it was a real chance to put some points on the board and kick-start their respective campaigns. Chris Foley reports. (Photo courtesy of HKFA)
Hong Kong FC entered this game at Happy Valley as underdogs and did little to dispel pre-match predictions with Tai Po gaining a 2-1 victory in a score line that somewhat flattered the home side. The game began at a frenetic pace with neither side managing to gain a firm foothold on the game. However, it was the visitors that struck first, with veteran Brazilian striker Lucas da Silva striking to send the vociferous travelling support into raptures. Hong Kong FC, however, were not going to let this game go without a fight, and managed to level matters soon after, Michael Hampshire rounding off a good passage of play to bag his second goal in consecutive games. This equaliser seemed to spur Tai Po into action as they proceeded to dominate the remainder of the half without actually managing to extend their lead. Da Silva was unlucky not to extend his goal tally on two occasions. First when he was controversially called back for an infringement by the referee with the goal seemingly at his mercy, and two minutes later when he was denied from close range by a great save from Issey Maholo. As Tai Po’s dominance continued, new signing Yuto Nakamura was heavily involved, and was unlucky to see a dangerous ball into the box met by nobody after he got on the end of an excellent long ball from Everson De Lima. A desperate attempt at goal from HKFC’s Max Poon which sailed far wide of the goal just before half time was indicative of the lack of chances created on their side, and they were lucky to go in at the half-time break level-pegging.
The second half began very much as the first had ended, with Tai Po putting the home side on the back foot. Issey Maholo was called into action once again, parrying an Everson de Lima header after a dangerous free-kick had been sent in by David Lazari. Minutes later, Tai Po’s pressure finally paid off. Da Silva the architect, running onto a deft flick by Wong Wai before squaring the ball to leave Yuto Nakamura with the easy task of sending the ball into the empty net. Not satisfied with the one goal margin, Tai Po’s champagne football continued, David Lazari unlucky to be denied by another great Maholo save after a cheeky back heel from Lucas Da Silva split the defence open. Maholo clearly a man inspired on this night, made yet another fantastic save just minutes later, this time being called into action on two occasions, first diving low to deny a sweetly struck David Lazari free-kick before also responding to the subsequent rebound from Nakamura. Lee Ka Yiu was unlucky not to bag a goal himself, seeing his shot tipped wide by, you guessed it, Issey Maholo. With ten minutes left on the clock. Hong Kong FC manager Richard Ewart chose to adopt a more offensive approach, introducing Jonathan Bliss in attempt to shake things up, and they did manage to apply some pressure on the visiting team and force a corner-kick. However, Tai Po responded by replacing goalscorer Da Silva with his felow countryman centre-back Dudu to help shore up the defence. With time running out, claims from the home crowd for a second yellow card for Nakamura proved futile, as did a last-minute corner (which Maholo decided to come up and join) and ultimately it was Tai Po who secured the 2-1 win on the day. For Hong Kong FC, positives can be taken from how organised their defence looked in the face of excellent attacking opposition, while Tai Po will be wondering how they couldn’t score more than the two goals they managed on the night.
Man of the Match: Issey Maholo (Hong Kong FC)
STADIUM: Hong Kong Football Club Stadium
HONG KONG FC: Issey Maholo, Steven McGurgan, Andrew Wylde, Robert Scott (Jonathan Bliss), Robert Bacon, Michael Hampshire, Matthew Hoare, Wing Wong, Ka Ming Poon, Gergely Gheczy (Alexandre Dujardin), Daniel Man
TAI PO: Li Hon Ho, Everson De Lima, Chen Jingde, Wong Wai (JYe Jia), Lee Ka Yiu (Hiu Fung Chan), Lucas Da Silva (Dudu), Fung Hing Wa, Tan Chun Lok, David Lazari, Chan Yuk Chi, Yuto Nakamura