Published: 15:33, April 29, 2021 | Updated: 01:55, May 26, 2021
AFC Cup should make way for earlier league finish
By Tobias Zuser

Eastern celebrated a late 1-0 victory over Pegasus. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA)

The schedule of the upcoming AFC Cup round, which would have taken place between May 14 and 20 at Hong Kong Stadium, has been put into question, as all eight Premier League clubs asked the Hong Kong Football Association to prioritize the local league instead.

According to the original schedule, the Premier League would have only finished in June, partly due to the break caused by the AFC Cup group stage. However, this arrangement turned out to be an additional burden for some teams, as many player contracts would have already expired before that. On Wednesday, April 28, the HKFA released a new schedule that would accommodate the remaining fixtures, including the championship and relegation playoff, within May. Instead, it was proposed to move the AFC Cup round with Eastern and Lee Man to the end of June, at the same time as the AFC Champions League, in which Kitchee are going to participate. However, the official approval from the Asian Football Confederation is still pending.

Meanwhile, the Premier League could really get a proper title race eventually, as Eastern managed to keep the gap to leaders Kitchee close, following a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Pegasus, with Sandro scoring the match winner only in the 91st minute of the game. The top four teams have only two more rounds to play in the regular season, and will soon see each other in the championship play-off – a single round-robin system with three match days.

EASTERN vs SOUTHERN, Premier League, Mong Kok Stadium, April 30, 8 pm

The situation for Eastern has not changed much in the last few weeks. While the Blues are still in the title race, three points behind leaders Kitchee, they must not make any mistakes, as any point dropped could have serious consequences. Last weekend, Eastern only escaped defeat in the dying minutes of the game. However, based on the most recent performances they should have it easier against Southern. The Aberdeeners just lost to Lee Man and are currently seventh in the table, on same points with bottom-placed Happy Valley and sixth-placed Resources Capital.

Lee Man succumbed to a surprising defeat against Rangers. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA)

RANGERS vs RESOURCES CAPITAL, Premier League, Hammer Hill Road Sports Ground, May 2, 3 pm

With no games scheduled for Saturday, May 1, the HKFA has arranged another double header for Sunday, starting with Rangers taking on Resources Capital at Hammer Hill Road. Together with Pegasus, Rangers are one of the two surprise packages this season. Counting on experienced veterans, who were made redundant by other teams during the pandemic, has definitely paid off. This was underlined by their recent 1-0 win over Lee Man, courtesy of a Lo Kwan-yee penalty early in the game. Rangers are now on fifth. While theoretically still possible, it is rather unlikely that they will finish in the top four and qualify for the championship play-off. But this will not be necessary to call this campaign a successful one. For Resources Capital the situation also does not look too bad. They have long made clear that they are capable of fast-paced football, and once again embarrassed Happy Valley, scoring three goals in the first 33 minutes of the match and sealing their third win of the season.

HAPPY VALLEY vs LEE MAN, Premier League, Sham Shui Po Sports Ground, May 2, 3 pm

The 3-0 defeat was a serious blow for Happy Valley, but also one with strange circumstances. With head coach Pau Ka-yiu being suspended due to his derogatory comments against referee Gigi Law, club director Poon Man-tik has taken charge and decided to field a quite unusual team for what should have been considered a relegation six pointer against direct rivals. Happy Valley’s starting eleven included eight U22 players without any foreign aid. Ex-Manchester United youth talent Charlie Scott, as well as Nigerian dangerman Robert Odu, were both left out. The 0-3 loss was therefore not entirely surprising. While some observers interpreted the team selection as a subtle protest against the recent FA penalties against coach Pau and player Lam Hin-ting, Poon explained after the match that he wanted to give younger players more chances. Happy Valley will also have three matches scheduled between May 2 and 9, for which the usual key players should be well rested.  

Resources Capital thrashed Happy Valley 3-0 last weekend. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA)

SOUTHERN vs RESOURCES CAPITAL, Premier League, Aberdeen Sports Ground, May 5, 3 pm

With the ambition to finish the Premier League within May, the HKFA plans to follow a tight schedule. On Wednesday, Southern will host a mid-week afternoon match at Aberdeen Sports Ground. Given the timing, many fans might struggle to show up, but there is a lot at stake for this game, as two relegation candidates are meeting each other. Earlier this season Southern lost 0-1 to Resources Capital, and this match-up should be a similarly close call. If the newcomers finish anywhere else than bottom this season, this would already be a big achievement.  

HAPPY VALLEY vs PEGASUS, Premier League, Mong Kok Stadium, May 6, 8 pm

On Thursday night, Happy Valley are going to host Pegasus at Mong Kok Stadium. The Flying Horsemen have had a great run of late and managed to re-establish themselves in Hong Kong’s top four. They also landed a small coup by relocating to Yuen Long and putting Tin Shui Wai back into their name. In absence of the Yuen Long District team, which voluntarily relegated to the First Division, Pegasus are drawing again big numbers to the stadium. More than 2000 people showed up for the recent clash with Eastern, proving chairman Steven Lo right to abandon the oversized Hong Kong Stadium for a better match atmosphere in the New Territories. Even though Poon Man-tik may field again the usual first team players, Happy Valley will still have a hard time. If they cannot gain any momentum, they may risk finishing bottom this season, which would undermine their respectable success of being one of this year’s Sapling Cup finalists.