South China secured 3rd position in the Premier League after overcoming Southern at Aberdeen Sports Ground, despite a late comeback from the home side threatening to spoil their dominant performance throughout the second half.
The Caroliners have endured an indifferent season, after a disastrous start to their AFC Cup campaign and the departure of their head coach Casemiro Mior mid-season saw performances dip. Fans also began to boycott games due to the governance of the club and the lack of any silverware in the past two years. Indeed, the Sapling Cup remains South China‘s last hope of attaining something positive from the season when they face Pegasus in the final on May 18th.
Southern on the other hand, after being promoted last season, have had an excellent season under the stewardship of manager Ricky Cheng. The Aberdeeners are guaranteed to compete in the AFC Cup playoffs this season, and made it all the way to the Senior Shield final. Although they went on to lose the match to Eastern, they got their revenge after breaking this year’s champion’s unbeaten run in a 2:0 away victory with a goal of the season contender from Wellingsson de Souza.
A win today for the home side would have seen them leapfrog South China into 3rd place, but both sides found chances hard to come by in the first half, with Mahama Awal probably having the best of those for the Caroliners with a powerful header that beat everyone except the crossbar.
Interim coach Ricardo Rambo’s half time talk clearly had the desired effect, however, and South China came out of the blocks quickly looking to take advantage of space on the wings. The breakthrough came on the 54 minute mark, after Awal’s excellent ball into the box found Liang Zicheng who rifled the ball home to put his side 1:0 up.
Their lead was doubled 5 minutes later, with Awal again being given far too much space to dominate on the right side of the park. Another dangerous cross was this time met by the head of Lam Hok Hei, who nodded the ball in for his first Premier League goal of the season.
Southern were struggling to deal with the Cameroonian’s pace, and Awal was able to afford himself plenty of space to continue to deliver crosses into the danger area. On the 69th minute, however, he managed to slip in behind the defensive line and dribbled the ball into the box, capping off a great run with a delightful finish over the outstretched hand of Tse Tak Him to make it 3:0 and seemingly securing the victory.
The Aberdeeners pulled one back in the 86th minute, after De Souza was brought down in the box by Cheung Chi Yung. The Brazilian took the penalty himself, firing into the bottom-left corner to give his team hope.
And deep into stoppage time, things got very interesting after Southern scored another. A free kick into the box from Michael Luk was well-controlled by Diego Garrido, who smashed the ball over the helpless Cristian Mora to make it 3:2.
It was however, a case of too little too late, and the Caroliners can now focus their efforts on their forthcoming AFC Cup fixture against I-League Champions Mohun Bagan in India on Wednesday night, in a game they have to win. Southern finish in 4th place, a great start for a team full of promising talent.
(Southern goalscorers: de Souza (PEN) 88′; Garrido 90’+2′)
(South China goalscorers: Liang Zicheng 53′; Lam Hok Hei 59′; Awal 69′)
DATE: 7th May, 2016
STADIUM: Aberdeen Sports Ground