Hampered by the pandemic, the Premier League had their latest ever kick off in November, and was soon suspended due to a new wave of the outbreak in the community. After 83 days of pause, with little ground training available during that, local football managed to resume with heavy scheduling changes, including the cancellation of two domestic cups. The Sapling Cup group stage was the first to resume in February and served as the “warm-up” to the league.
The Premier League then managed to complete a double round-robin format, before splitting into two groups for a single round-robin, where each team would have played 17 rounds. This league format and the shortage of games will hopefully be a one-off solution, but it would probably be the best solution to meet most players’ contract ending date at the end of May, as well as leaving time for the preparation for AFC Cup, Asian Champions League and World Cup Qualifiers in June.
Points accumulated in the previous rounds will be taken over to the Final Round. Unless teams voluntarily pull out of the Premier League at the end of the season, no team will be relegated to Division 1. The Championship Group will not only decide the title winner but also offering the top 3 Asian competition spots, while the Relegation Group will also not go on meaninglessly. Southern’s chairman Matthew Wong has provided an extra incentive of HK$200,000 to the winner of the Relegation Group, as well as HK$10,000 to the MOTM of each game to stimulate the motivation among the bottom four.
The Championship Group
Since the arrival of Montenegrin star striker Dejan Damjanovic in February, the Bluewaves has not lost a game where he’s scored, with the man netted 15 goals already from 12 appearances. Kitchee also posed the best defence in the league by conceding only 9 goals from the first 14 rounds. Kitchee last dropped a point back in their match against Eastern in March, in front of this season’s current record-high attendance, and their next meeting on May 23rd could well be the title-deciding match.
Eastern has already secured the only other silverware available this season – the Sapling Cup and enters the Final Round having won their last four games by just a one-goal margin, most notably the 3:2 comeback win over Lee Man on April 17th. The Blues is also the most lethal team in the league with 33 goals scored, having former league golden boots Sandro and Lucas Silva in their ranks.
The Tin Shui Wai team made a surprise by making the top 3, despite their poor start when their head coach Kenneth Kwok was away finishing his AFC Pro License. The pause did the squad a favour to give their new Brazilians more time to settle in. Their “marquee” signings, former Brazilian Serie A men Marquinhos and Nilson combined to score 14 of their total 20 league goals. The Flying Horsemen are currently sitting at the 3rd with a 4 points gap, and are in a prime position to secure their return to continental competition since 2011.
4th: Lee Man
The Bees was earlier tipped as a title contender before the season started, especially when they flew high by smashing five by Pegasus in their first match. However, since the retirement of their French talisman Michael N’Dri at the end of February, they have struggled to adjust. Thanks to the revival of veterans Lee Hong-lim and Gilvanilton, they secured their spot in the Championship Group, where their focus will be on keeping the AFC Cup spot.
The Relegation Group
The Aberdeeners once slumped to the bottom of the table in March and they subsequently drew Happy Valley, beat Rangers and RCFC to send themselves top of the bottom half. Both of their strikers have had a fine season, with James Ha being the only local player reaching double digits in the league and their “marquee” signing Stefan Pereira has 9 goals to his name so far. Despite holding the smallest squad in the league, they managed to find themselves top of the Relegation Group ahead of the Final Round.
6th: Resources Capital
A lot have predicted them to come last in the league, when RCFC kept their core of promotion-winning players, most of whom did not have top-flight experience at all. RCFC had their hard lessons learnt early in the season, as the team settled in the pace, they managed to pick up their first wins, albeit both from a late penalty, against Happy Valley and Southern in March. They might have suffered heavy defeats against league leaders, but their important consecutive wins against fellow Relegation Group members Happy Valley and Rangers from late April put them in a surprising mid-table position.
Rangers won applause from fans for their newly formed, experienced midfield featuring Lam Ka-wai, Lo Kwan-yee and Philip Chan and brilliance from their goalkeeper Aleks Shlyakotin. Their run was somewhat opposite to that of RCFC, when Rangers did well to hold league giants Kitchee, Eastern and Lee Man to draws, losing to Happy Valley and RCFC hurt them in gaining a higher position.
8th: Happy Valley
Happy Valley started the season promisingly and their young core won their way to the semi-final of the Sapling Cup in February. But since then things have taken a sharp turn, they were suspended for late payment of insurances. Their Sapling Cup semi-final was cancelled but was later controversially sent to the Final as their semis opponent Lee Man refused to participate. Happy Valley ultimately lost to Eastern in the Final, and their form was poor with a sole win over the Rangers on April 4th since. Further to sexism scandals by their head coach Pau Ka-yiu and key player Lam Hin-ting, the team would be relieved that there is no relegation this season.
Final Round Fixtures:
May 15th – Championship Group R15
May 16th – Relegation Group R15
May 18th & 19th – Championship Group R16
May 22nd – Relegation Group R16
May 23rd – Championship Group R17
May 30th – Relegation Group R17