Tai Po in pole position of title race with 3 rounds left

With the beginning of April, the Premier League has been moving closer to the finishing line. The 15th  round is now wrapped up, and the championship race only got tighter and more interesting, with four teams making their final push. At the same time, the situation at the bottom of the table is getting clearer.

Lee Man and Eastern kicked off the long weekend of fixtures on Friday evening, April 5th, at Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground, where the game ended in a scoreless draw. The first half was mainly a battle between the midfields, with just a few opportunity on either ends, except for Manual Bleda’s on-target shot. However, things opened up a bit after the break. A bullet from Lee Hong-lim of Eastern was aimed at the top left corner, but Pang Tsz-kin pushed it away. On the other side, Leong Ka-hang had a shot with similar velocity, which was denied brilliantly by Yapp Hung-fai. The Eastern goalkeeper made a couple of brilliant saves again further down the stretch, helping the visiting side to muster a point in a 0-0 draw.

On the following day, the matchup between Dreams and R&F was the only scheduled fixture on Saturday. The Guangzhou-based club, who are in the midst of contention, scored a big 5-1 win powered by Tiago de Leonco’s first hat-trick in the Hong Kong circuit. In the 21st minute, Vas Nunez’ powerful, one-time volley following a corner beat To Chun-Kiu. Seven minutes after, Leonco headed in his first of the day on a free kick from Lam Zhi-gin. The match went further in favour of the visiting R&F, when Dreams’ Marcos Gondra received his second yellow card, following a foul on Nunez in the 30th minute, causing his immediate exit. Nonetheless, Dreams tallied the only goal of the match, with Pablo Gallardo’s powerful header. Within a minute, R&F regained a two-goal advantage after Giovane da Silva slotted home from close range. At the back end of the second half,  Leonco added two more on the scoreboard. The first one came from a terrific free-kick, while the second one was a easy tap-in at goal mouth to complete his hat-trick.

Bottom-of-the-table Hoi King desperately needed points to avoid relegation, but it was nothing else than disappointment on Sunday, April 7th, after a 5-1 loss to Tai Po, who put themselves up front in the championship race. Despite a lopsided matchup, the two sides exchanged three goals in the span of six minutes. First, it was Michel Lugo to open the scoring for the Greens in the fifth minute, before his Brazilian fellow Igor Sartori made an effort from outside the box that was too good for the goalkeeper to handle. However, the home side cut the deficit in half thanks to Kim Minki scoring from the spot after the Korean had been brought down in the box by Fung Hing-wa. Lugo, again, scored his second midway through the first half with a terrific effort 20 yards away from goal. In the second half, the Greens remained strong and completed the five-goal afternoon with goals from Philip Chan and Sandro in the 69th and 77th minute respectively.

The action then shifted to Yuen Long Stadium, where the last match of the day was held. Following the same matchup one week earlier, Yuen Long and Pegasus met again. This time, the visiting Flying Horsemen took revenge with a 0-1 win, taking revenge for their loss on penalties to the Tangerines in the FA Cup quarter-final. Japanese forward Shu Sasaski’s conversion of a spot-kick late in the contest proved to be the game decider. It was an exciting contest, after all, although goals were hard to come by due to excellent goalkeeping efforts on either side. Chan Yiu-fung of Yuen Long mustered for the best opportunity before the break, but his shot from eight yards was stopped by Leung Hing-kit. Then the rebound hit the right post and returned into arms of the goalkeeper once again. On the other end, Yuen Chun-sing’s effort was stopped by Chan Ka-ho. The game-winner finally arrived in the 84th minute, after Walter Junior was challenged by Chan in a chase for the ball inside the box. Sasaski easily picked up his eighth goal of the season.

On Monday night, April 8th, Kitchee and Southern, another two title contending candidates, collided at Mongkok Stadium for arguably the most crucial matchup of the week. A win was desperately necessary for either team to keep up the race. However, they settled with a 1-1 draw. Despite an aggressive start from the Aberdeeners, the Bluewaves took advantage of a set piece for a 1-0 lead ten minutes into the game after Fernando had been fouled on the flank. Ju Yingzhi’s free kick found Tong Kin-man, who beat Li Yat-chun with a header. The visitors, however, found back into the match in the dying seconds of the first half. The corner taken by Dhiego Martins found Roberto Fronza who deflected it into the back of the net from a sharp angle, giving Southern a deserved equalizer just before half time. Kitchee hardly found any good chances to regain the lead, apart from Lucas Silva’s overhead shot and header. In stoppage time, the Brazilian had his final chance to cap the win, but his shot was kicked out by the goalkeeper.

Going into the 16th round, four teams on top of the table are separated by just one point. Tai Po remain in pole position with 32 points, followed by Kitchee, who have played one more match than the other three clubs. R&F are in third place, while Southern, with 29 points, rank fourth. Eastern, Pegasus, Yuen Long and Dreams, in such order, are in the middle of the table. With 8 points, Lee Man are right in front of Hoi King, who are in real danger to relegate with just four points. The Premier League will only resume in two weeks time, after the Sapling Cup semi-finals that are held on the coming weekend.

Match Results

Lee Man 0:0 Eastern (April 5th, 5:30pm, Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground; Attendance: 630)

Dreams 1:5 R&F (April 6th, 2:30pm, Tsing Yi Sports Ground; Attendance: 579)

Hoi King 1:5 Tai Po (April 7th, 2:30pm, Sham Shui Po Sports Ground; Attendance: 635)

Yuen Long 0:1 Pegasus (April 7th, 5:30pm, Yuen Long Stadium; Attendance: 728)

Kitchee 1:1 Southern (April 8th, 8:00pm, Mongkok Stadium; Attendance: 1896)

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