Classy Instant tame Caroliners
A refereeing performance of quite staggering ineptitude failed to prevent Instant Dict from inflicting a deserved 3-1 win over rivals South China in their Ericsson League clash yesterday.
Eight yellow cards, a mystifying sending-off and an even more perplexing penalty decision were the main talking points after a game which leaves Instant five points clear at the top of the table.
Examples of poor refereeing have been common in Hong Kong over the past few seasons, but the performance of yesterday's man in the middle, Wong Po-on, set a new low.
Two particularly baffling decisions stand out from yesterday's game.
The first concerned the 60th-minute sending off of Instant's elegant sweeper Dimitre Kalkanov, inexplicably given his marching orders after a seemingly innocuous tussle with Shum Kwok-pui.
The second decision was even more dubious, when South China earned a 67th-minute penalty after their substitute, Dale Tempest, appeared to do little more than run into an Instant defender just inside the area.
Wong's decision to point to the spot left Instant's players fuming. Justice prevailed, however, when Chung Ho-yin saved Tempest's spot-kick and then denied Lee Kin-wo's rebound effort.
Lee then sparked an uproar by lunging recklessly at Chung, deservedly earning a booking in the process. Had Tempest's penalty found the net, South China may have seized the momentum.
But Instant - leading 2-0 at the time - kept their heads and killed the game off when Tim Bredbury chipped in an exquisite strike to put his team 3-0 ahead.
South China rallied in the dying minutes and grabbed a late goal through winger Lee, but by that time both sides looked as if they couldn't wait to get off the pitch.
'I've got to be a bit careful about what I say, but I couldn't understand a lot of the refereeing decisions out there today,' said Instant captain Tim O'Shea.
'I think perhaps referees tend to get a bit over-excited and get carried away in the heat of the moment. I don't know what the penalty was for but it looked like a case of six of one, half a dozen the other. Unfortunately, not many of those decisions seemed to go our way,' O'Shea added.
The experienced former Tottenham player was also baffled by Kalkanov's expulsion. 'You wonder whether Kally gets a rough deal sometimes. He's had a bit of a record in the past and a lot of the decisions given against him are because of who he is,' O'Shea said.
Wong's failure to penalise tackles from behind also drew some sharp words from O'Shea.
'I thought FIFA were getting referees to clamp down on those sort of tackles. But he let quite a few of them go today and he was giving bookings for silly little things . . . the lack of consistency can be a bit frustrating sometimes,' he added.
If one player benefited from Wong's erratic display yesterday it was South China defender Radislav Ignjic. Twice Ignjic scythed down Dickies' forward Ian Baird from behind, and twice Wong gave only a free-kick.
Instant forward Paul Foster, on the other hand, can feel justifiably aggrieved at getting a first-half yellow card for a shove on Leslie Santos that was more clumsy than malicious.
After a scrappy opening period, Instant took the lead on 26 minutes through Baird, who netted his second in two starts for his new club after a fine long ball by Bredbury. The former Leeds and Brighton player found himself in acres of space inside the South China penalty box and even had time to let Bredbury's through ball bounce once before hammering it past Kevin Lok Kar-win on the half volley.
South China's best chance of the first half came when Au Wai-lun, looking suspiciously offside, broke clear before teeing up a chance for Joachim Grandelius. The Swedish midfielder's effort was well saved by Instant 'keeper Chung and referee Wong waved away appeals for a penalty after the ball bounced off O'Shea's arm.
Instant extended their lead early on in the second half after a lovely piece of interplay between Bredbury, Baird and Foster. Baird's immaculate pass through to Foster saw the Australian bearing down on goal. Although he was closed down by Lok, he kept control of the ball and chipped to the far post for Ricky Cheng Sin Siu-chung to head home.
Kalkanov's sending-off and the penalty controversy followed shortly afterwards, but with O'Shea marshalling the Instant defence magnificently, South China were unable to make their extra-man advantage count.
Bredbury's splendid effort sealed a fine Instant display.