Tai Po sink knackered Kitchee after 9 year wait

Photo: Tai Po FC

In what is perhaps the most crazy round of weekend football for some time in Hong Kong, the top three changed hands three times in a matter of hours, as the district teams brought the hammer down on the traditional giants. 

Pegasus started the 11th Premier League round, hosting Hoi King on Friday night at Mong Kok Stadium. Hoi King have shown in the last few rounds that their young squad, coupled with some shrewd business in the transfer window, were no longer the whipping boys of the league as before, and that they meant to fight for every point heading towards the end of the season. Nevertheless, it was business as usual for Pegasus as the home team eased to a win and bagged all three points, with goals from Travis Major and David Lazari.

The Flying Horsemen bombarded the Hoi King goal from the off. Yuen Chun-sing’s nicely headed effort went straight to Paulo Cesar in goal, with the Brazilian custodian also equal to Junior Soares’ narrow effort from the left of the penalty area. Hoi King attacked 22 minutes in, withKim Min-ki looping a shot on goal as the Pegasus defenders gave him too much space. Unfortunately for the Korean hitman, the shot went well above the intended target.

Pegasus winger Wong Chun-ho put Pegasus on the scoreboard in the 28th minute, leaving two defenders eating dust before delivering a peach of a cross from the right, onto Travis Major’s waiting foot, and into the back of the net. Major may have got the goal to his name, but that cross by the 28-year-old Wong Chun-ho could well be a contender for assist of the month.

Four minutes later, Hoi King’s defense was breached again, this time from a Pegasus counter-attack that put their slick teamwork on full display for the fans. David Lazari’s through-ball cut through the centre backs, and Yuen Chun-sing latched on, only to see his shot barely parried by Cesar.

Kim Min-ki was driving the Kingsmen and gave the Pegasus camp quite a scare, as his cannoned shot ricocheted off the crossbar from the top of the box, 25 yards from goal. An unlucky Hoi King and a relieved Pegasus settled for half time, 1-0 to the home side.

The second half played out much like the first. An injured Júnior was replaced in the 61st minute, but Pegasus lost none of their hunger for goals. A silky smooth team effort found David Lazari at the top of the away box again, and the ex-Tai Po utility man made no mistake from mere yards out.

But wait, there’s more. Lau Chi-lok was subbed in for Yuen Chun-sing in the 77th minute, and made his first contribution with a technical foul in the Hoi King half, which earned him a yellow card. Barely a minute later, he gets a second yellow, this time for scything down a Hoi King player from behind. It was the stuff of fiction. Lau was off to the showers with a second yellow in the 79th minute. Pegasus saw out the remaining added time to the game, but needless to say, the score line was the last thing on anyone’s minds at the end of this match.

Saturday rolled around, with perhaps the most anticipated game of the season between Tai Po and Kitchee, the first of the two fixtures to take place. These two teams have gotten to know each other really well in their frequent exchanges in recent seasons, and the Greens were raring to go on home soil, having signed ex-Bluewaves striker Sandro in the buildup to this match. Kitchee, on the other hand, are hampered with injuries and fatigue, having just played exceptionally against Perak in Malaysia for 120 minutes, but losing on penalties.

Momentum was with the New Territories side, and it showed from the opening whistle: Fielding an all-attacking side, the Greens broke Kitchee hearts in the 2nd minute. Hélio’s attempted clearance of Lugo’s cross from the right was met with open air. Sandro stabilized and slotted coolly past the despairing Wang Zhenpeng. The home crowd went ballistic. Having lost all encounters with Kitchee this season, Tai Po fans could not believe their side was in front mere minutes into the contest. Sandro celebrated with the crowd by pointing to his name, as the Tai Po faithful sang his name, to the chagrin of the visiting fans.

Kitchee attempted an instant response, with Ju Yingzhi testing Tsang Man-fai in the Greens goal with a fierce dipping free-kick in the 6th minute. Tai Po almost made them pay ten minutes later, when João Emir headed Igor Sartori’s corner just above the crossbar.

The game had all the makings of a classic: a giant and an underdog, fast paced attacking football, and fans having a go at each other through chants and songs. Rarely do we see packed stadiums, let alone whole pockets of fans standing and screaming at the top of their lungs. Both teams exchanged waves of possession and offensive intent, with Tai Po just in front 1-0 at half time.

The fireworks continued in the second half, as things got more urgent on the pitch and heated in the stands. Igor Sartori weaved and jived into the Bluewaves box and stung Wang Zhenpeng’s gloves from a sharp angle in the 46th minute. Sensing danger, Kitchee threw men forward in a desperate attempt to equalize. Unfortunately for the visitors, the strain from a fortnight ago were showing, with the Blues confronted with walls of green shirts every time they had possession.

In the 62nd minute, a midfield fight for the ball saw Lugo lob overhead for Sandro, who shrugged off Hélio as he hared into the box. The Kitchee players could only look on as their ex-talisman notched his 4th goal in 3 games, widening the score to 2-0 for Tai Po.

Kitchee were unlucky to not get a goal back minutes later, as a cross into the home box was met with the flying head of Lucas, but was denied by the crossbar. Vadocz’s powerful shot from the top of the box was also smothered out by Tsang Man-fai.

With the roar of the home crowd behind them, Tai Po focused on the counter. Igor Sartori won a penalty for his side as he was brought down in the box, with the winger himself duly converting to further pour misery on the reigning champions, 3-0 to the good. This is the first time Tai Po has defeated Kitchee this season, and the first time Tai Po have beaten the Bluewaves in league competition since the 2009/10 season, 9 years ago. Tai Po claimed all three points, and briefly moved to the top of the table.

Time to hop over to Tseung Kwan O where Lee Man hosted R&F(HK). As the title race heats up, so does the relegation battle, as teams in the bottom-three jostled for position to safety. Dreams would need to claim points if they are to hope to remain in the Premier League next season. R&F, on the other hand, would move back top of the table with a win here against the struggling Bees.

Given how the season has turned out so far, fans would be forgiven if they were hoping for another David-and-Goliath style upset. Unfortunately for the strugglers, Fuli’s quality was just too much to hold at bay. Six minutes into the game, Fuli opened the scoring: Itaparica’s freekick was well kept out by Lee Man custodian Yuen Ho-chun, but Fuli frontman Sasa Novakovic got to the lose ball first, and converted for the visitors.

Wave after wave of Blues assaulted the home side. In the 12th minute, Tiago de Leonco, Giovane de Silva and Itaparica pulled off a fantastic piece of teamwork that deserved a goal, with Itaparica just putting the lob marginally off-target. Lee Man fought for an equalizer, but were rarely able to threaten the backline of R&F, with Chan Hin-kwong’s and Chan Ming-kong’s efforts duly shut out by Zhou Yuchen in goal.

Lee Man’s best chance fell to Michael N’dri in the 38th minute, as he received a tantalizing cross from Stefan Pereira. To the frustration of the team, the resulting header went just wide. In stoppage time, de Leonco, a nuisance to the Lee Man players all evening, finally notched his goal for the visitors: The Brazilian centre-forward tore down the pitch, as the ball went sailing over the top, outstripping the backtracking yellow-and-black shirts, to slot a long shot into the goal. The score now sat at 2-0 and Lee Man had an even steeper mountain to climb after the break.

Lee Man came back out of the blocks ready to go, and tested Zhou Yuchen in the 55th minute. Fong Pak-lun attempted to lob the keeper, but Zhou Yuchen managed to pluck the ball out of the air. As he landed towards the back of his own net, Zhou stretched out his arms, and despite the protest from the Lee Man forwards, a goal was not given.

Yuen Ho-chun needed medical attention shortly after following a collision with Lam Zhi-gin. The goalkeeper flapped at an incoming cross from the right, and was in the way of the on-rushing midfielder, as he was attempting to stand. Reporting dizziness, the keeper was rushed to the hospital, where he was found to have suffered from a fractured cheekbone from the incident.

Lee Man managed to fight on until the 81st minute, where they were carved apart for the final part of this game. Giovane de Silva and Serge Debel combined nicely and took the score to 3-0 in favour of the Guangzhou-based team. Despite a late goal by Cheng Siu-kwan for the Yellow-and-Blacks, a comeback was never on the cards. The game ended with R&F back on top of the league table, winning all three points.

Lastly, Sunday, February 17th, saw the last two games of the weekend. First up was Dreams and Yuen Long at Tsing Yi Sports Ground, and the Dreamers dished out a humbling to Yuen Long at home, courtesy of a Jonathan Acosta goal and a Marcos Gondra hat-trick.

Both teams wanted to draw first blood, though it was Yuen Long who had the first chance just five minutes in, when Kessi dos Santos fired away at goal, but was denied by keeper To Chun-kiu. Continuing to turn the screw, Yuen Long had another chance through Moser in the 15th minute, but his goal was blocked by a white-clad defender.

The game seesawed back and forth, until the 26th minute when Dreams broke the deadlock. Marcos’ freekick from right of the box somehow managed to loop over the New Territories defense, and bounced into goal. Their joy did not last long, however, as the Tangerines breakout star Chan Kwong-ho headed in to even the tie towards the end of the first half.

Right before the end of the first half, the Dreamers were dealt a blow as Lam Hin-ting took a knock to the head, and was replaced by Kawase Kota. To make matters worse, Chan Kwong-ho nearly doubled Yuen Long’s tally, as his half volley bounced just wide of the Dreams upright. A sense of relief was palpable from the home side as the half ended, all squared.

Four minutes into the second half, Tomas Maronesi was adjudged to have handled the ball in the penalty area. Marcos Gondra then tucked the ball away to regain the lead for the Pink-and-Blacks. Mere minutes later, things went from bad to worse for the Tangerines, as Wang Rui was sent to an early shower for a cynical slide on Marcos.

Taking advantage of the numbers, Dreams passed the ball all around the New Territories team, running them in circles, as Marcos completed his hat-trick with a poked ball past keeper Chan Ka-ho. Jonathan Acosta then added the icing on the cake for the home side with a solo effort at the end, and Dreams claimed all three points with a scoreline of 4-1.

The last match took place at Hong Kong Stadium, where Eastern clashes with Southern. There was a lot on the line for both teams in the top four, as the winners would leapfrog into second place in the league.

Following some exciting back and forth, Eastern struck first through Everton Camargo. Receiving a long pass into the box, the Brazilian striker dummied his marker to put the home side up by 1-0. Riding on the momentum from that early goal, the Blues tested Southern keeper Tse Tak-him again and again. Ts was his usual unflappable self, however, and save after save kept the Aberdeeners in the contest.

Southern equalized in the 22nd minute with a true worldie of a goal from James “Bullet” Ha. Lau Hok-ming had all the time in the world to float the ball over the mass of blue shirts. James Ha had pace to burn, and took the ball down on his toes, off his chest and cannoned the ball into the Eastern goal. Not to be outdone, Eastern looked to respond, and Camargo wriggled free from Southern defenders to set up Jaimes McKee, only for the English-born Hong Kong national to poke the ball to Tse Tak-him.

The Island team had their keeper to thank again, as a freekick in the 33rd minute was accidently helped on its way by defender Che Renqiu. Tze Tak-him demonstrated great agility to parry the ball away, with Cleyton Afonso of Eastern unable to put away the rebound.

One team’s loss is another’s gain, as Southern went in front moments later. James Ha blazed through the middle, leaving Blues in his wake, and his cross-cum-shot found Wellington de Souza’s sliding boot. Eastern trailed at home at the break, 1-2.

The second half continued with the “James Ha Show”, as the Souther striker turned on the afterburning again and again, twice going one-on-one against Yapp Hung-fai and coming out on top against the powerful Eastern goalkeeper. The closest Eastern came to scoring was a Camargo effort off the post. After full time Southern emerged triumphant, winning 1-4 and taking all three points to move into second place.

Next weekend will see Eastern take on an ever-hungry Tai Po away, and Southern facing Lee Man at home. A well-oiled Pegasus will square off with troubled Kitchee at Mong Kok, while Hoi King and Dreams shall battle it out for survival at Sham Shui Po. Yuen Long will host R&F to round out next weekend’s fixtures.

Pegasus 2:0 Hoi King (February 15th, 8:00 pm, Mongkok Stadium; Attendence: 537)
Tai Po 3-0 Kitchee (February 16th, 2:30pm, Tai Po Sports Ground; Attendence: 1753)
Lee Man 1:3 R&F (HK) (February 16th, 5:30pm, Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground; Attendence: 462)
Dreams 4:1 Yuen Long (February 17th, 2:30pm, Tsing Yi Sports Ground; Attendence 602)
Eastern 1:4 Southern (February 17th, 5:30pm, Hong Kong Stadium; Attendence: 979)

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