Eastern keep upper hand in title race


In what was the penultimate fixture in this season’s Hong Kong Premier League for these two sides, Southern did little to dispel pre-match predictions, as Eastern romped to a 3-1 victory in a performance which looked very much like that of a champions-elect side.

The game began at a frenetic pace, with both goalkeepers tested in the opening three minutes. Tse Tak-him was on hand to deny a long-range effort by Bai He, before Yapp Hung-fai was called into action at the other end, denying a good effort by Brazilian playmaker Wellingsson de Souza. This pace continued for another 20 minutes, as Eastern began to exert an element of dominance, with Hong Kong international Jaimes McKee being a particular threat. Despite this, it was Southern who struck first, courtesy of an error by Eastern’s Roberto Affonso. His careless back pass led to de Souza breaking through on goal, before coolly finishing past the helpless Yapp Hung-fai. Southern almost doubled their lead moments later, when James Ha sent a close-range effort high and wide, after being caught off balance in a good position. Undeterred by this period of uncertainty, Eastern levelled matters just five minutes later, with a goal exhibiting all that has been great about Eastern this season. Ju Yingzhi controlled a looping cross from Lee Hong-lim, before flicking it over the head of the onrushing Southern defender and laying it off for Michel Lugo, who guided the ball into the corner of the net. This goal proved to be the impetus for Eastern to really assert their dominance on this game, and they proceeded to have the upper hand for the remainder of the half. A long-range effort by McKee shortly afterwards sailed harmlessly over, before a fantastic attempt from Yu Jingzhi forced a good save from Tse Tak-him, who tipped the ball wide. Eastern’s pressure finally paid off on the stroke of half-time. In contrast to the first goal, this second strike is unlikely to feature in any highlight reels. Michel Lugo bundled the ball into the back of the net, after a Diego Eli header had just been stopped on the goal line, much to the delight of the home support.

As the second half got underway, Eastern more or less picked up where they left off, and within five minutes they had extended their lead. Manuel Bleda latched on to an excellent Yu Jingzhi through-ball, before making no mistake in sending the ball into the back of the Southern net. Southern, to their credit, did not drop their heads at this point, and continued to try, in vain, to get back into the game. De Souza was unlucky to see an effort sail wide, following great work from James Ha, before Hui Wang-fung saw a long-range strike fall straight into the hands of the unflappable Yapp. Wellingsson de Souza often cut a frustrated figure in this game, looking the most likely to inspire a Southern fightback but struggling to find a break. Meanwhile his adversary Michel Lugo continued to wreak havoc on the opposite wing, his best chance at a hat-trick sailing just wide of the target after he had embarked on a mazy solo run, which started on the half-way line. The closing exchanges of the game passed without much inside, a few minor scuffles aside, as the hosts closed the game out in emphatic style. Eastern remain undefeated, heading into the final round of fixtures, with all eyes on Saturday’s clash between South China and title rivals Kitchee.

EASTERN: Yapp Hung-fai, Josh Mitchell, Diego Eli, Bai He, Manuel Bleda (Giovane da Silva), Michel Lugo, Roberto Affonso, Tsang Kam-to, Jaimes McKee (Lee Hong-lim), Ju Yingzhi (Leung Chun-pong), Wong Tsz-ho

SOUTHERN: Tse Tak-him, Sham Kwok-fai, Shay Spitz, Diego Garrido, Dieguito (Tomas Maronesi), Wellingsson de Souza (Marco de la Espada), Hui Wang-fung, James Ha, Chan Kong-pan, Paul Olivier Ngue (Leung Tszchun), Tomoya Uchida

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