Injury worry fails to dampen spirits of high-flying Valley

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 December, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 December, 1999, 12:00am

Happy Valley coach Chan Hung-ping is keeping his fingers crossed that playmaker Cheung Sai-ho will take his place in tonight's Senior Challenge Shield final against arch-rivals South China at Hong Kong Stadium.

Cheung has been a revelation during the past two seasons, although he risks missing out on the last domestic trophy final of the millennium because of an ankle injury picked up last week.

Chan said: 'His ankle is healing but he hasn't fully recovered. He picked up the injury during our Shield semi-final against Sai Kung. He needs another week or so to be completely match fit.

'Right now, it's 50-50. We want him to play and I'm sure Cheung is itching to get on the pitch.

'It would be nice if we could be at full strength, especially against South China.' Chan was hopeful Cheung would at least start on the substitute's bench, although he admitted the 26-year-old midfielder was racing against time to prove his fitness.

While Cheung has a 50-50 chance of playing, South China's right-back and Hong Kong Footballer of the Year, Yau Kin-wai, is a definite non-starter.

'He's still nursing a back injury. He has been out for two games and it's a pity he will be out for this one,' said South China team director Peter Leung Shou-chi.

'We will be nearly at full strength. We may be slightly weakened at the back but we remain strong up front and I'm counting on Ricky [Cheng Siu-chung] and Zeljko [Gavrilovic] to supply the goals for us,' said Leung.

Happy Valley will be hoping to continue their unbeaten record that stretches back to September 7 when they began their run with a 2-0 win over South China in the season opener.

'That was then but Cup finals are always different. Everything will be on the line and we expect South China to give us a hard time.

'I think we are capable of beating them, provided that we play decent football,' said Chan.

Happy Valley have won all but one of their games this season. Their 1-1 draw with Yee Hope in September remains the only blemish on their record.

With English goalkeeper Peter Guthrie in fine fettle - Guthrie played an instrumental part in last Sunday's 9-8 penalty shootout win for the Hong Kong League XI against the Brazilian Select - Happy Valley could stretch their unbeaten run to eight games.

South China are on a good run, too, having won their past four games.

But unlike Happy Valley, who defeated Sai Kung 4-2 to reach the Shield final, South China had to toil against Instant-Dict before a last-gasp goal from Chan Chi-hong saw them through 1-0.