Two down, one to go as Kitchee chase treble glory
The mission is not yet over, even though Kitchee wrapped up another campaign as BMA First Division champions by trouncing Biu Chun Rangers 4-1 in the last league match of the season at Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground yesterday.
The result played no part in deciding the title after TSW Pegasus, Kitchee's major rivals, were upset by Sun Hei 2-1 on Friday night. The 800-plus fans who braved yesterday's heavy downpour were there only to celebrate Kitchee's second successful league campaign in a row after they were crowned champions for the first time last season since 1964.
The victory did extend Kitchee's advantage in the final standings as they finished the season with 42 points, four ahead of second place Pegasus. South China finished third with 36 points.
However, Kitchee are aiming for their first ever treble-winning season, having also earlier won the League Cup. To do so, they still need to beat Pegasus in the FA Cup final on Saturday. On the international front, they will host Arema of Indonesia in an AFC Cup round of 16 match on Wednesday, with the winners through to the quarter-final stage which begins in September.
'Our first priority always remains the league championship as this is the most important domestic title and we are also the defending champions,' said Kitchee boss Ken Ng Kin. 'Of course, we also want to do well in the AFC Cup where we are in the knockout stage. But now we are presented with the chance for a club record treble season and the entire team don't want to miss it.
'Winning this second league title was much more difficult compared with last season. We did not start very well in the league last fall. Perhaps our pre-season was somehow affected by representing Hong Kong in the Asia Trophy in the summer. We also suffered from the absence of playmaker Lam Ka-wai in the beginning due to injury. But thanks to the hard work of the players and the management skills of coach Josep Gombau, we were able to overcome the slow start and make progress as the seasons went on.'
Ng said the arrival of certain new faces in mid-season was also very important, as players like Zeshan Rehman and Yago Gonzalez had not only stabilised the squad, but also given them more options for players' deployment on both the domestic and international fronts.
The Kitchee chief expects to build a stronger squad for next season as they mount challenges on all fronts. 'While we will target all domestic titles. We also want to advance to the later stages of the AFC Cup, provided we can get past Arema on Wednesday,' said Ng.
'We will keep our playing style under coach Gombau because we are adopting it better for the last couple of seasons. In fact, most of the key players will stay and there will only be minor changes in a few positions, but these new faces will help strengthen the squad.'
Gombau has had his contract renewed for two seasons. Meanwhile, Tuen Mun narrowly defeated Wofoo Tai Po 3-2 to finish sixth in the final standings.