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Friday, December 15, 2017, 15:15
Kitchee continue to dominate as Sapling Cup returns
By Jeff Hardbattle
Friday, December 15, 2017, 15:15 By Jeff Hardbattle

Last year's league runners-up Eastern are starting to find some form after they beat R&F in Guangzhou last week. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA.COM)

The Hong Kong Premier League continues to captivate fans after wins for both Kitchee and Pegasus last week mean that the Bluewaves maintain their slender three-point lead at the top of the league. Elsewhere, a surprise win for league debutants Lee Man allows them to move out of the bottom two for the first time since November and they now have a four-point cushion between themselves and the drop zone. It is not looking good for Rangers, however, who remain rooted to the foot of the table with some serious internal problems after the departure of their head coach Dejan Antonic this week, citing a lack of control over team decisions as the reason for his resignation. Nevertheless, the Sapling Cup group stages will get back underway this weekend with some exciting contests on offer.

LEE MAN v EASTERN, Sapling Cup (Group A), Hammer Hill Sports Ground, Dec 16, 2:30 pm

Lee Man took a huge step to Premier League survival last weekend after an unexpected 3-1 home win over silverware hopefuls Southern. A Stefan Pereira double and a third from Denis Lima sealed the points for the Bees despite their opponents taking an early lead, meaning that they now move ahead of Yuen Long in the table and seemingly out of danger for the moment. Another strong performance in the Sapling Cup would also be a boost to their confidence, although their last outing in the competition resulted in a 1-2 loss to Dreams.
They face an Eastern side who are slowly finding ways to achieve victories and are now climbing up the table towards where they realistically should be, but this simply masks the fact that it has been a hugely disappointing season so far for Blues’ fans. They notched up their third consecutive league win in a tough match against R&F last week, courtesy of an own goal from Itaparica and a Xu Deshuai winner, but their performance in the Sapling Cup has been poor thus far, having lost 0-1 to Dreams a fortnight ago. Lee Man may well fancy their chances.

KITCHEE v R&F, Sapling Cup (Group B), Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground, Dec 16, 5:30 pm

With only Pegasus having found a way to stop the current champions from taking all three points in the league, it’s fair to say that Kitchee look unstoppable on the domestic front right now. They showed no mercy in a 6-0 drubbing of Rangers last Sunday, and with Alex Chu’s men having already beaten R&F in Guangzhou, the prospect of facing them in Hong Kong must surely be a more appealing prospect.
R&F are on a three-match losing streak and will doubtless not be looking forward to this match. Striker Giovane da Silva scored the opener in the team’s eventual 1-2 loss to Eastern at the weekend, and his experience could well prove vital if R&F are to have any chance of stopping Kitchee. Their last Sapling Cup outing resulted in a 1-2 defeat to Pegasus, and as a result they currently occupy the bottom spot in the Group B table.

Kitchee thrashed Rangers last week in a 6-0 demolition. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA.COM)

YUEN LONG v DREAMS, Sapling Cup (Group A), Tsing Yi Sports Ground, Dec 17, 2:30 pm

Having started the season in fairly decent fashion, Yuen Long are now without a win in the league since they beat Rangers at the beginning of October – a chain of results that sees them just three points above the relegation place. They have also played a game more than Rangers who sit below them, and if they cannot find a way to pick up points, the Tangerines could be in real trouble. They did at least put in a more accomplished showing in the New Territories derby last week, as they were perhaps unlucky not to come away with all three points in the 2-2 draw with Tai Po.
Dreams have been excellent so far in the Sapling Cup and currently sit in second place in Group A behind Tai Po, after scoring wins over Lee Man and Eastern. They have been more of a mixed bag with their league form, however, and the Dreamers were on the wrong end of the score line last Saturday as they slipped to a 1-3 defeat to Pegasus. With their form in the cup though, they do seem to be marginal favourites here, but this will be a tight affair.

RANGERS v PEGASUS, Sapling Cup (Group B), Tsing Yi Sports Ground, Dec 17, 5:30 pm

Propping up the rest of the teams in the league and three points from safety, Rangers are at crisis point, and even more so now that they are without a manager. They meekly succumbed to defeat to Kitchee in a game where fight and determination was distinctly lacking, and unless they can find a manager that can motivate them quickly, they could find themselves playing second tier football next year.
Pegasus, on the other hand, are still very much in the title race and now the only team who realistically have any kind of chance of catching Kitchee. Australian hitman Travis Major has been a revelation for the Flying Horsemen this term, scoring two in last week’s win over Dreams and taking his overall tally to seven goals. They were victorious over R&F in their last Sapling Cup game too, and judging the plight of their opponents here, it’s difficult to see anything other than a win for Yeung Ching-kwong’s side.

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