The first clash of a double header of FA Cup games took place on Saturday in Mong Kok, and it was Kitchee who booked their place in the final, in what was a far-from-routine victory over Southern.
The fixture began in a manner typical of a cup semi-final, with both sides eager to put their stamp on the game. The first chance fell to Alex Akande, who shot straight at Tse Tak-him after latching on to a through-ball from Matt Lam. This proved to be a warning shot to the Southern defence for what was to come, as Kitchee proceeded to break the deadlock just four minutes later. Matt Lam again played an excellent pass from midfield, this time to Jared Lum, who skilfully flicked the ball onwards and rifled it into the back of the net. Following this goal, there was a period of respite for the two goalkeepers, with most of the action taking place in the middle of the park. However, when Guo Jianqiao was eventually called into action, he did not disappoint, making a great save from Tomoyo Uchida, after he had been put through by James Ha. At the other end, Jared Lum was unlucky not to double his tally for the afternoon, after being denied by a splendid last-ditch tackle by Sham Kwok-fai. The last chance of the half fell to Southern’s Wellingsson de Souza, whose speculative shot swerved just wide of the post, leaving Kitchee to go in with their one-goal advantage still intact at the break.
As the second half got underway, it was immediately evident that Ricky Cheng must have had strong words to say to his team at halftime, as the visitors came out all guns blazing after the restart. The attacking partnership of Tomoya Uchida and James Ha looked dangerous throughout the second period, with the latter unlucky not to get on the end of an Uchida through-ball after making a dangerous run, before seeing it intercepted by the experienced Dani Cancela. At the other end, Alex Akande recorded his second attempt on target, as his header from a Lum free-kick fell straight into the hands of Tse Tak-him. Soon after, Southern’s Shay Spitz almost produced a “goal-of-the-season-contender”. The New Zealander launched a powerful long-range strike at goal, but was denied by another excellent Guo Jianqiao save. Southern finally got the equaliser that their efforts deserved on 73 minutes, as a cross from Sham Kwok-fai was met by the head of de Souza, who carefully guided the ball past the helpless Guo from close-range. Heartbreakingly for Southern, the result was to last just two minutes, as serial winners Kitchee regained their lead in fortuitous circumstances. A clever interchange of passes between Huang Yang and Matt Lam eventually culminated in Lam swinging in a cross, which bounced up to the head of Tong Kin-man. The substitute’s header looped over the goalkeeper and into the back of the net. Visibly devastated by this loss of parity, Southern began to attack with real purpose, and Marco de la Espada, lining out against his former club, saw a headed effort saved by Guo after rising to meet a Michael Luk’s cross. As the game wound down into injury time, Southern’s last throw of the dice was in the form of a free-kick just inside Kitchee’s half. Even Tse Tak-him decided to make a move forward for the set piece, but unfortunately, the ball came to nothing and the referee proceeded to call time on this clash. For Kitchee, the chance at a double remains alive, while for Southern, 2016/17 will go down as a trophy-less season.
KITCHEE: Guo Jianqiao, Dani Cancela, Helio, Lam Zhi-gin, Alex Akande (Tong Kin-man), Sandro, Jared Lum (Rufino Segovia), Huang Yang, Matt Lam, Krisztian Vadocz, Kim Bong Jin
SOUTHERN: Tse Tak-him, Sham Kwok-fai, Shay Spitz, Lau Hok-ming, Diego Garrido, Wellingsson de Souza, James Ha (Leung Tsz-chun), Chan Kong-pan, Marcos de la Espada, Paul Olivier Ngue (Michael Luk), Tomoya Uchida (Tomas Maronesi)