Upsets throw league wide open
Happy Valley shattered Instant Dict's unbeaten record and Sing Tao crushed a woeful South China to throw the Ericsson League wide open at the Hong Kong Stadium last night.
Valley came from a goal down to run out convincing 3-1 winners over Instant, while Sing Tao tore apart South China in style to clinch an impressive 3-0 victory.
Instant's shock defeat - which ended controversially with goalkeeper Mick Leonard sent off - cuts their lead in the first phase from eight to five points, with both Valley and a revitalised Sing Tao heading the chasing pack.
Instant had looked to be on course for a straightforward win when new signing Ian Baird got his Hong Kong career off to the perfect start with a 41st-minute tap-in.
They had a chance to wrap things up soon after the break but the normally reliable Paul Foster took too long bearing down on goal, allowing Peter Guthrie time to save.
The turning point came on 60 minutes. John Moore was booked for a clumsy lunge on Dimitre Kalkanov, but when 'keeper Leonard remonstrated with Moore for the tackle he was somewhat mystifyingly booked as well. When play finally resumed Instant looked decidedly irritated by the delay and before they had been given a chance to settle, Valley had equalised.
Moore flicked the ball to Cheung Sai-ho who crashed in a tight-angled shot.
Nine minutes later Valley took the lead. Cheung swept an awkward ball into the box and Paul Wood stooped low to glance in a superb header.
With Valley's centre-half pairing of Martin Kuhl and Shaun Teale back to their rock-solid best, Instant were continually kept in check. Leonard's sending off came in the 89th minute.
Instant were caught on the break and Wood broke clear and did everything right but was felled by Leonard as he rounded him. Referee Fong Fat-wah had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and produced another yellow card to give Leonard his marching orders.
Teale duly crashed the penalty past stand-in keeper Tim O'Shea to complete Valley's win.
'My first booking was for shouting at an opponent . . . it's a joke,' said a disgusted Leonard afterwards. Not surprisingly, Wood saw it differently.
'To be honest, Mick's made the decision to come out and he's caught me late . . . I'm sure I would have scored if he hadn't got me. As far as I can see it was a penalty,' Wood said.
Happy Valley and Instant's curtain-raiser was followed by an equally stirring encounter between South China and Sing Tao. It's a long time since Sing Tao have beaten South China so emphatically, and if the Tigers can sustain the form shown last night they have the ability to emerge as genuine title contenders.
After taking the lead with an Anto Grabo header in the 35th minute, Sing Tao never looked back. They were helped by an extremely dodgy penalty in the 44th minute, when South China's Yau Kin-wai was adjudged to have fouled Chan Tsz-kong.
Although Chan was definitely clattered, the offence looked to have occurred outside the penalty area. Referee Lam Hon-chung waved away the Caroliners' protests, however, and Leung Shing-kit stepped up to send Kevin Lok Kar-win the wrong way.
The second half was one-way traffic. With wingers Chan and Wai Kwan-lung unravelling the South China defence with ease, it soon became a matter of how many Sing Tao would score.
Goal number three came on 70 minutes. Fullback Lau Chi-yuen broke out of defence and floated a cross-field pass to Wai. Wai returned the favour with a lovely chip and Lau arrived to head at the near post. Lok scrambled the ball clear but only as far as Chan who cracked it in from close range.